Status of religious freedom by country

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The status of religious freedom around the world varies from country to country.


[edit] Countries

[edit] Afghanistan

The current government of Afghanistan has only been in place since 2002, following a U.S.-led invasion which displaced the former Taliban government. The Constitution of Afghanistan is dated January 23, 2004, and its initial three articles mandate:

  1. Afghanistan shall be an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary, and indivisible state.
  2. The sacred religion of Islam shall be the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rights.
  3. No law shall contravene the tenents and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.

[edit] Argentina

Article 2 of the Constitution of Argentina reads: The Federal Government supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion.[1]

[edit] Australia

Since the founding of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, religious freedom has been guaranteed and state religion has been outlawed. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution says:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. [2]

Some Australian judges (see Murphy ([3])) have gone so far as to say that the government cannot support religious schools, even if done in a non-discriminatory way. The High Court of Australia, however, has consistently allowed funding of religious schools. State aid for non-Government schools became an issue in 1962 and was a major campaign issue in the 1963 federal election, following which federal and State Government funds have supported non-Government schools.

The issue of separation between religion and state is generally less contentious than in the United States. The Australian Parliament still holds prayers at the start of each sitting day and has since federation. Attendance at the prayer services is optional but many Members of Parliament do attend.

[edit] Cambodia

Article 43 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia reads: Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to freedom of belief. Freedom of religious belief and worship shall be guaranteed by the State on the condition that such freedom does not affect other religious beliefs or violate public order and security. Buddhism shall be the State religion.[4]

[edit] Canada

Religious freedom in Canada is a constitutionally protected right, allowing believers the freedom to assemble and worship without limitation or interference.

There is no established church, however religious groups can qualify for tax-exemption. The amount of funding religious schools receive varies from province to province. In many provinces religious schools are government funded in the same way other independent schools are. In most parts of Canada there is a Catholic education system alongside the secular "public" education system. They are run on Catholic principles and include religious activities and instruction as a matter of course. They are not exclusively attended by practicing Catholics.

Again, like most countries, the specific form of separation unique to the US does not apply here. There is no restriction on government funding of "faith-based" activities. Religious activity in schools is not excluded constitutionally (though in public schools it is usually not undertaken). Some Canadian public schools have the students recite the Lord's Prayer daily, some schools do not recite it.[citation needed]

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in the Constitution, states in the preamble that Canada "is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law." [5]. Freedom of religion as also guaranteed. The Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] (1 S.C.R. 295) ruled that a 1906 statute that required most places to be closed on Sunday did not have a legitimate purpose in a "free and democratic society," and was an unconstitutional attempt to establish a religious-based closing law (see Blue law.)

[edit] China

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief; however, the Government restricts religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups.

[edit] Denmark

According to Section 4 in the Constitution of Denmark: "The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the Established Church of Denmark, and, as such, it shall be supported by the State." See also Religion in Denmark.

[edit] Egypt

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Despite the fact that Egypt is a predominantly Islamic population, the prevailing belief is that the Coptic Orthodox Church is the unofficial state church of Egypt. It is not noted in the Constitution of Egypt (which is currently in use) what is the official State Church because Egypt is currently an Arab Republic that recognizes Islam as the State Religion, but most inhabitants of Egypt accept the Coptic Orthodox Church as the unofficial State Church mainly due to the fact that it incorporates Egypt's largest Christian population, which makes up approximately 10% of Egypt's total population. The separation of the state's influence on religion and vice versa is often undetermined; many rights groups have claimed that some laws passed by the State are heavily influenced by the State Religion, and sometimes aims at particular minorities in Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church is in fairly good relations with the State. This was seen when the State officially declared January 7th, the Coptic Orthodox Christmas, as an official holiday in Egypt. However, some laws still aim at persecuting the Coptic Orthodox Church: the President of Egypt must approve any permits to build or repair any church in Egypt, also known as the Hamayouni Decree. [6]

Other churches exist in Egypt, such as the Coptic Catholic Church as well as some Protestant denominations. However, their population composes a very small portion of Egypt's population.

[edit] Finland

As the national churches of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church have a status protected by law. The special legal position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is also codified in the constitution of Finland. Both churches have the right to levy an income tax on their members and every Finnish company as a part of Corporation Tax. The tax is collected by the state. The administration of the national churches is regulated by their respective church laws, which are drafted by the churches and enacted or rejected by the parliament. State universities, religiously non-aligned in themselves, provide the theological education that is required from those to be ordained as clergy of the national churches. The general direction has been to restrict and remove the privileges of the national churches, and as of 2004, in most other official business (such as officiating marriages) any registered religious community has a status comparable to that of the national churches.

[edit] France

1905 caricature depicting the separation of the church and state. The man in the middle is Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu-Martin, Minister of Education at the time

Since 1905, France has had a law requiring separation of church and state, prohibiting the state from recognizing or funding any religion. According to the French constitution, freedom of religion was already a constitutional right. The 1905 law on secularity was highly controversial at the time. France adheres to the notion of laïcité, that is, noninterference of the government into the religious sphere and noninterference of religion into government, and a strict neutrality of government in religious affairs.

References to religious beliefs by politicians to justify public policies are considered a political faux pas, since it is widely believed that religious beliefs should be kept out of the public sphere.

Public tax money supports some church-affiliated schools, but they must agree to follow the same curriculum as the public schools and are prohibited from forcing students to attend religion courses or to discriminate against students on the basis of religion.

Churches, synagogues, temples and cathedrals built before 1905, at the taxpayers' expense, are now the property of the state and the communes; however they may be gratuitously used for religious activities provided this religious use stays continuous in time. Some argue that this is a form of unfair subsidy for the established religions in comparison to Islam.

The Alsace-Moselle area, which was administered by Germany at the time the 1905 law was passed and was returned to France only after World War I, is still under the pre-1905 regime established of the Concordat, which provides for the public subsidy of the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed church and the Jewish Religion as well as public education in those religions. An original trait of this area is that priests are paid by the state; the bishops are named by the President on the proposal of the Pope. Controversy erupts periodically on the appropriateness of these and other extraordinary legal dispositions of Alsace-Moselle, as well as on the exclusion of other religions in Alsace-Moselle from this arrangement. See also laïcité

[edit] Germany

After the wars that followed the Reformation, the principle cuius regio, eius religio divided the Holy Roman Empire in statelets with a homogeneous faith. This principle, already complicated by changes in state boundaries in the early 18th century, ended with the fall of all German monarchies in the 1918 revolution.

Today, church and state are separate, but there is cooperation in many fields, most importantly in the social sector. Churches and religious communities, if they are large, stable and loyal to the constitution, can get special status from the state as a "corporation under public law" which allows the churches to levy taxes called Kirchensteuer (literally church tax) on their members. This revenue is collected by the state in return for a collection fee.

As required by the constitution, religious instruction (for members of the respective religions) is an ordinary subject in public schools (in most states). It is organized by the state, but also under the supervision of the respective religious community. Teachers are educated at public universities. Parents, or students 14 years old and above, can decide not to take those religion classes, but most federal states require classes in "ethics" or "philosophy" as replacements. A small but significant number of religious schools, which receive the majority of their funding (but never all of it) from the state, exist in most parts of the country; however nobody can be compelled to attend them. There was considerable public controversy when the Federal Constitutional Court declared a Bavarian law requiring a crucifix in every classroom to be unconstitutional in 1997; Bavaria replaced it with a law still demanding the same, unless parents file a formal protest with the state.

As immigration has significantly increased the numbers of Muslim inhabitants, there is ongoing discussion about introducing an Islamic religious instruction for Muslim pupils, but such plans have yet been hampered by difficulties in organising a curriculum for the whole Islamic spectrum. The Federal Administrative Court recently ruled that the Berlin Islamic Federation was a qualified religious community under Berlin law (which differs considerably from most of the rest of the country); hence, the Berlin State Government decided to begin Islamic religious instruction in public schools in areas with significant Islamic populations.

There is an ongoing controversy over the status of the Church of Scientology, as the German states deny this group tax exemption normally granted to religious communities and rather classify it as a business enterprise subject to taxation. This issue is intermingled with controversial allegations that Scientology is a totalitarian cult. These classifications however do not prohibit the group's activities in Germany. [7]

[edit] Georgia

The Georgian Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

[edit] Greece

Greece is the only European Union (EU) country to ban proselytism in its constitution, and for this reason the only EU country to have been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for a lack of religious freedom. The position of the Church of Greece and its relations with the State are set forth in Article 3, par. 1 of the present Constitution (1975/1986/2001). According to this article: (a) The Greek-Orthodox dogma is the prevailing religion, (b) The Church of Greece is inseparably united in doctrine with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and with all other Orthodox Churches, and (c) The Church is self-administered and autocephalous.

About 98% of the population is Christian Orthodox.[citation needed] The remaining percentage represents Muslims, Roman Catholics, Eastern-rite Catholics and Jews. The Government, under the direction of the Ministry of Education and Religion, provides some financial support by, for example, paying for the salaries and religious training of clergy, and financing the maintenance of Orthodox Church buildings. This special relation between the Greek State and the Orthodox Church has come about for historical reasons and long-established tradition, many Greeks attributing the preservation of Greek national identity during the 400 years of Ottoman occupation to the Orthodox Church. A separation of Church and State would require an amendment of the Constitution.

Being Greek Orthodox is a necessary requirement for those who wish to join the Hellenic Army special forces.[citation needed]

The relationship between church and state in Greece is partly responsible for the fact that Athens doesn't have a mosque. A Greek Government plan exists which would build an Islamic center and mosque on some 35,000 square meters of donated land in the Athens suburb of Peania.<Ref> Template:Cite web </Ref> The plan has drawn fire on grounds that Peania currently has no Muslim community. The Mayor of Peania has initiated legal action, pointing to a century-old deed, which they say proves the land on which the Mosque would be built belongs to Peania and not the central government.<Ref> Template:Cite web</Ref> Muslim communities have also criticized the Peania project, noting that such a mosque would be located some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Athens, where most of the capital's Muslim faithful live.<Ref> Template:Cite web</Ref>

Islam and Judaism are semi-public religions with the Chief Mufti and Chief Rabbi being civil servant offices, and being on the public payroll.[citation needed]

Also see GREECE: Religious freedom, the Achilles' Heel

[edit] India

The Indian constitution's preamble states that India is a secular state. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. Every citizen of India has a right to practise and promote their religions peacefully. However there have been many incidence of religious intolerance which resulted in riots, although the issues which caused these riots have been investigated and dealt with.

[edit] Iran

Aside from Islam, the government of Iran only recognizes three other religions, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Other religious groups including the Bahá'ís, the biggest religious minority in Iran, are not recognized and do not have any representative in the parliament.

[edit] Ireland

For most practical purposes, Ireland has separation of church and state. Article 44.1 of the constitution states that 'The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.' However, Article 44.2 goes on to state that '1˚Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to pubic order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen. 2˚The State guarantees not to endow any religion.' While many religious schools are publicly funded, the religious link is due to the way the national school system is funded - a board of management runs the school, which is usually privately owned, while teachers' salaries are paid by the state. The Fifth Amendment of the constitution removed the section which referred to the special position of the Catholic Church, though it has been argued that this section was more symbolic than of actual influence. The Irish President has to swear an oath that does contain an explicit religious reference, though this may be changed in future. Occasionally, there is mild controversy that the Angelus bell is broadcast by RTE on RTÉ 1 TV and radio station, but it generally peters out, due to the indifference of the population at large to the issue.

[edit] Israel

With very few exceptions, such as laws relating to marriage and divorce, as well as policies concerning the Temple Mount, Israel is a purely secular state. English Common Law, rather than Judaic Talmudic Law, is the legal tradition. Every citizen of Israel, regardless of his or her religious or national affiliation, enjoys full and equal civil rights. This of course includes the large Arab and Muslim minority.

However, the ultra-Orthodox minority parties in Israel, being a necessary element in almost every coalition government, try to increase religious influence over the state, and receive state funding for religious schools, and other benefits, such as exemption from service in the Israeli Defence Forces. Israel also offers automatic citizenship to any Jew who wishes to become a citizen. Such benefits and funds are considered by many as discriminatory privileges, and as clear violations of the principle of separation of church and state.

Israel is commonly referred to as "the Jewish State" which is often a source of confusion, as the term "Jew" has the twin meaning of referring to both a religion and a nation. Israel's founders considered "Jew" as a nationality and hence Israel can be considered "the Jewish State" with regard to nationality only, just as Italy can be described as the "Italian State," France "the French Republic" and so on.

[edit] Japan

Historically, Japan had long tradition of mixed religious practice between Shinto and Buddhism since the introduction of Buddhism in 7th century. Though the Emperor of Japan is supposed to be the direct descendant of Amaterasu Oomikami, Shinto sun goddess, all Imperial family members, as well as almost all Japanese, were Buddhists who also practiced Shinto religious rites as well. Moreover, throughout Japanese history, religious organisation fail to exercise strong political influence as seen in Europe and when they tried to do so, they were violently suppressed. (see Ikko Ikki and Christianity in Japan).

After the Meiji Restoration, Japan tried to remodel the state in line of modern European constitutional monarchy. Upon learning that many European state sourced their constitutional authority to monolithic Chritian God, which Japanese religious tradition did not have, the emperor itself was substituted to its position. Buddhism and Shintoism were officially separated and Shintoism was set as the state religion which mirroredd the position of Chritianity in European monarchy. The Constitution specifically stated that Emperor is "holy and inviolable" (Tennou ha shinsei nishite okasu bekarazu). During the period of Emperor Showa, the status of emperor is further elevated to be a living god (Arahito gami). This ceased at the end of World War II, when the current constitution was drafted. (See Ningen-sengen.)

Article 20 of the constitution of Japan drafted in by the occupation by the USA, in 1946 and currently in use, mandates a separation of religious organizations from the state, as well as ensuring religious freedom: "No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice. The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity." However, like the CDU of Germany, Japan is not without a political party that has religious affiliation, namely the New Komeito Party has affiliation with Sōka Gakkai. Less than one percent of Japanese population are Christian, and Soka Gakkai is a minor religion itself. Japanese in general mix Buddhism, Shinto, and secularism in practice, and often have "Christian" weddings. Tenrikyo and other Japan-centered faiths are also present.

[edit] Malaysia

The status of religious freedom in Malaysia is a controversial issue. Islam is the official state religion and the Constitution of Malaysia provides for limited freedom of religion, notably placing control upon the 'propagation' of religion other than Islam to Muslims, a fundamental part of a number of other religions. However, questions including whether Malays can convert from Islam and whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or secular state remains unresolved. For the most part the multiple religions within Malaysia interact peacefully and exhibit mutual respect. This is evident by the continued peaceful co-existence of cultures and ethnic groups.

[edit] Mexico

A precedent of limiting the rights of the church – especially the Roman Catholic Church– was set by President Valentín Gómez Farías in 1833. Later, President Benito Juárez enacted a set of laws that came to be known as the Leyes de Reforma between 1859 and 1863 in the backdrop of the Guerra de Reforma. These laws mandated, among other things, the separation of church and state, allowed for civil marriages and a civil registry, and confiscated the church's property.

Tensions also existed between the Roman Catholic Church and the post-Revolution Mexican government. Severe restrictions on the rights of the Church and members of the clergy were written into the country's 1917 constitution that led to the eruption of the Cristero War in 1926. In 1992 the government reestablished diplomatic relations with the Holy See and lifted almost all restrictions on the Catholic Church. This later action included granting all religious groups legal status, conceding them limited property rights, and lifting restrictions on the number of priests in the country. However, the law continues to mandate a strict separation of church and state. The constitution still bars members of the clergy from holding public office, advocating partisan political views, supporting political candidates, or opposing the laws or institutions of the state.

The constitution provides that education should avoid privileges of religion, and that one religion or its members may not be given preference in education over another. Religious instruction is prohibited in public schools; however, religious associations are free to maintain private schools, which receive no public funds.

According to the Religious Associations and Public Worship Law, religious groups may not own or administer broadcast radio or television stations; however, the Catholic Church owns and operates a national cable television channel. Government permission is required to transmit religious programming on commercial broadcast radio or television, and permission is granted routinely.

Source: International Religious Freedom Report 2004. United States Department of State. Last accessed: October 8, 2005.

[edit] Netherlands

The Netherlands has separation of church and state, but the government does recognize religious communities, especially in cultural affairs. Schools founded by religious communities, whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Islamic, receive government finance. This was instituted in 1918 in what is known as the Pacification. Religiously inspired broadcasting associations are also allowed to broadcast on Dutch national public television. As such the Netherlands does not have a strong separation between church and state, but instead the state sustains a plural society, which historically consisted out of multiple separated religious groups. One anomaly in this respect is the convention that the Dutch monarch has to be a member of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

[edit] Russia

From the foundation of the Kievan Rus dynasty until the institution of bolshevism, Russia maintained very close ties between the officially recognized religion, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the government. These bonds became tightest under tsar Peter I ("Peter the Great"); in 1721, the office of Patriarch of Moscow was eliminated and replaced with a "Holy Governing Synod," presided over by an Imperial appointee and regulated by Imperial law. From that point until 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church was explicitly a department of the Russian government.

After the October Revolution and bolshevik coup, the government of the Soviet Union was quite active in religious affairs, even though it was theoretically atheist and purely secular. Between 1917 and 1922, Soviet authorities executed 28 Orthodox Bishops and over 1,000 priests. A government-sponsored "renovation" known as the Living Church was instigated in May of 1922 as a replacement for the Russian Orthodox Church. It was eliminated in 1943 during the Second World War, but state intervention in religious affairs did not end, and religion was highly regulated and controlled until the end of the Soviet Union.

On October 9 and November 10 of 1990, the Russian Parliament passed two freedom of conscience laws that formally disestablished the Russian Orthodox Church as the state church of Russia (this step had never actually been explicitly taken in the Soviet Union). In 1997, however, the Russian Parliament passed a law restricting the activities of religious organizations within Russia. Complete freedom is given to any religious organization officially recognized by the Soviet government before 1985: the Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. The basis for consideration as an official religion of the Russian Federation is supposed to be a 50-year presence in the state. According to this criterion, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and the Baptist faith should all enjoy official status as Russian religions. However, this is not the case. Non-official religions are strictly limited in that they are not permitted to operate schools or import non-Russian citizens to act as missionaries or clergy. Likewise, they must annually re-register with local officials.

This act has been sharply criticized as antithetical to the concept of freedom of religion, especially in countries with religious organizations that expend a great deal of money and effort in proselytizing.

The Russian government also engages in practices that have been accused of being discriminatory against citizens who profess faiths other than Orthodox Christianity. In the Russian armed forces — for which there continues to be universal conscription — no form of religious worship other than Orthodox Christian is permitted. Thus, conscripted Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists (despite their ostensible religious freedom granted in the 1997 law) are prohibited from engaging in prayer, even if they do so in solitude.

[edit] Philippines

By passing through the numerous phases of colonial occupation, the relationship of the church and state in the Philippines has gradually changed from the collaboration of the Roman Catholic Church with the government during the Spanish era to the generally accepted separation today.

[edit] Republic of China (Taiwan)

Article 13 of the constitution of the Republic of China provides that the people shall have freedom of religious belief. [8]

[edit] Saudi Arabia

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocratic monarchy in which Islam is the official religion; the law requires that all Saudi citizens be Muslims, but permits non-Muslim visitors or foreign workers to live among and deal with Muslims except in certain areas. The Saudi Mutaween (Arabic: مطوعين), or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police), prohibits the public practice of non-Muslim religions. The Government claims to recognize the right of non-Muslims to worship in private; however it does not always respect this right in practice.

[edit] Sweden

The Lutheran church and state were partially separated in 1999. The Church of Sweden still maintains special status. It is now possible to register new religious organizations, but they lack the same special status and the ability to perform legally binding services such as marriage and burials.

There are ongoing efforts to remove the special status from the former state church. Marriage can now be performed by anyone who has received a certificate.

[edit] Turkey

Whether state and religion is separate in Turkey is disputed. Turkey is a country with a strong stance of secularism since Kemal Atatürk's westernization movement in March 3, 1924 by removing the caliphate system and all religious influence from the state. In reverse, Sunni Islam, the majority religion, is now controlled by the Turkish government through the "Department of Religious Affairs," and is state-funded. All Islamic views which are deemed political are censored in accordance with the principle of secularism. All stated funded mosques conduct weekly seminars whose content has to be approved by the state. Also, independent Sunni communities are illegal. Minority religions, like Alevi Islam or Armenian or Greek Orthodoxy, are guaranteed by the constitution as individual faiths and are mostly tolerated, but this guarantee does not give any rights to religious communities. However the Treaty of Lausanne gives certain religious rights to Jews, Greeks, and Armenians, but not, for example, to Syrian-Orthodox or Roman Catholics. Recently, the question over reestablishment of an ancient Greek Orthodox seminary in Istanbul became a political issue in regard to Turkey's accession to EU membership. The EU considers such prohibition to amount to suppression of religious freedom. However, it is pointed out that, if the Greek Orthodox are allowed to reopen the school, they will become the only religion in Turkey with the right to independent religious schools. Recent attempts to outlaw adultery caused outcry in Europe and was seen as an attempt to legislate an Islamic value, while other point out that the legislation was intended to combat polygamy which is still common in rural areas. Also, similar to France, people are not allowed to wear hijab in government institutions such as in school, civil service or the university.

[edit] United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, there are two state-approved churches. The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian while the Church of England is Anglican (Episcopalian). The former is a national church guaranteed by law to be separate from the state, while the latter is a state-established church and any major changes to doctrine, liturgy, or structure must have parliamentary approval. Neither Wales nor Northern Ireland currently have established churches: the Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920, the Church of Ireland in 1871. The king or queen must promise to uphold the rights of the Presbyterian church in Scotland and the Anglican church in England. He or she is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, holding the title of Defender of the Faith, but an ordinary member of the Church of Scotland. Neither church receives direct funding from taxation. State schools must provide religious instruction and regular religious ceremonies, though parents may withdraw their children from either; the choice of religion is left up to the school governors, but in the absence of an explicit choice it is by default "broadly Christian;" the Church of England and the Catholic Church operate many state-funded schools and there are a small number of Jewish and Muslim ones. Senior Church of England bishops have a right to sit in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

[edit] United States

Image:ChristianFlagEtc CovenantPresbyterianLongBeach20050213 CopyrightKaihsuTai.jpg
The Christian flag displayed alongside the flag of the USA next to the pulpit in a church in California. Note the eagle and cross finials on the flag poles.

In the 1600s and 1700s, many Europeans emigrated to what would later become the United States. For some this was driven by the desire to worship freely in their own fashion. These included a large number of nonconformists such as the Puritans and the Pilgrims as well as English Catholics. However, with some exceptions, such as Roger Williams of Rhode Island or the Roman Catholic Lord Baltimore in Maryland, most of these groups did not believe in religious toleration and in some cases came to America with the explicit aim of setting up a theocratic state.

Such history and beliefs were integrated into the U.S. Constitution with the passing of the Bill of Rights containing the First Amendment. The clause of the First Amendment that adopted the founders' principles of separation of church and state and freedom of religion is known as the Establishment Clause. It states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

The interpretation of that clause is subject to disagreement. According to Conservatives, the first half of that establishment clause has been interpreted as requiring official indifference, whereas the second half (the free exercise portion) has been emasculated.

Public education is a case in point. Some conservatives doubt that restricting religious speech in public school classrooms was the original intent of the first amendment and believe that ending government-funded or government-endorsed religious activities for students constitutes censorship of religion, contrary to the intent of the First Amendment. Further, they feel that many educators deliberately abuse their authority by imposing atheist views on their students.

Some hold that the founders' intent was to prevent the state from mandating or banning any religion, while others, including the ACLU, hold to the view that no government — federal, state or local — can perform any action or make any policy which blatantly favors one faith or church over the others, or which favors belief in God or the Supreme being over non-belief. The latter position has been gradually adopted by the Supreme Court since the latter half of the nineteenth century, though the Court is not unanimous on this: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an "originalist" who favors the stricter interpretation and application of the Constitution (e.g.,no government can blatantly favor one faith or church over the others, or favor belief in God or the Supreme being over non-belief) disagrees with the modern view.

The court-enforced separation does not extend to all elements of civil religion. By law, the country's currency now carries the motto "In God We Trust." Congress begins its sessions with a prayer, and since 1954 the Pledge of Allegiance contains the phrase, "one nation, under God." Court rulings have upheld these apparently religious references, viewing them as non-substantive "ceremonial deism" or utilizing other legal theories. Recent lawsuits have unsuccessfully attempted to challenge this view. Some expressions of religion on public property, such as certain displays of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms or Nativity scenes on public land have been recently ruled to be unconstitutional. The government is also permitted to restrict religious activities so long as these restrictions do not target religion specifically. For instance, a religious group cannot perform human sacrifice under the veil of separation of church and state because the government views it as murder and murder is illegal.

Religion plays a strong role in national politics, especially in controversial issues like abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality. Direct church-state issues also arise, currently including the question of whether or not school vouchers should be used to help parents pay for education at private schools which may have religious affiliations, and the status of the faith-based initiatives of the current President, George W. Bush.

While there are numerous Catholics in the government, the most prominent religious participants in national politics are Evangelical Christians, Conservative Catholics and some Orthodox Jews, largely allied with the Republican Party and in the Bible Belt of the Southern and Midwestern United States, comprising what is known as the "religious right." Other Protestants (including predominantly liberal sects), Mormons, Jews, Muslims, non-believers, and other faiths are also quite active. Some religious groups wish to increase the ability of government to make various religious expressions; they often emphasize the largely Christian demographics and history of the country, however it is also often used as an attempt to give state sanction to a majoritarian faith at the direct expense of the rights of minority religious groups. See Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe

It is common practice for national politicians with strongly religious constituencies to cite religious texts or beliefs in support of certain policies. In other areas voters may be more disapproving of expressions of religious faith by political candidates and government officials.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Status of religious freedom around the world

Afghanistan | Algeria | Canada | People’s Republic of China | Colombia | France | Georgia | Germany | India | Iran | Italy | Malaysia | Mauritania | Pakistan | Philippines | Saudi Arabia | Sri Lanka | Sudan | United Kingdom | United States

Status of religious freedom by country

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