Religion and Democracy in Secular States: Please provide a short bibliography of resources on democracy and religion in secular federal republics. Please highlight any information on how legal frameworks in these countries have been developed to support religious tolerance.

Helpdesk response
Key findings: The literature notes that various approaches have been adopted by democracies in dealing with the relationship between religion and the state. These range from excluding religion as a political force altogether (such as in Turkey); to constitutionally privatising religion (such as in France and the US); through to recognising the communal nature of religion (such as in Israel). The main criticism of states which fail to recognise religious diversity and plurality is that these states nevertheless espouse a majoritarian (often liberal) view which is posited in opposition to non-ruling, minority religious cultures.

Some commentators argue that a break with secular constitutional traditions in a multi-religious country can have disastrous consequences. Political demands motivated by religious convictions are often couched in absolute terms, making compromise and negotiation difficult. For this reason, they argue, it is crucial to maintain secular government and protect the political system from religious competition.

Surprisingly, there is little readily available information on the wider legal frameworks used to promote religious tolerance. The literature which does address the ways in which legal frameworks protect the status of religious communities or minorities, focuses mainly on constitutional provisions. These include articles which provide for the secular nature of the state; the equality of all citizens before the state; the right to religious freedom; the right of religious communities to establish and run their own educational institutions; protection against being compelled to worship; as well as a prohibition against the state collecting taxes for spending on religious activities. An increasingly common strategy has been to transfer ‘religion and state’ questions from the political realm to the constitutional courts.

Full response:

Date query received by the Helpdesk: 24 March 2009