Many countries in the world have a state religion or an official religion. Some countries have stepped away from religion in recent decades such as Nepal. At one extreme of the spectrum is the Vatican City and Iran that are Theocratic, and at the other are states such Puerto Rico and the United States of America that have constitutions that forbid religion playing a part in government. There are many other states that exist with religion as part of their processes but not constitutionally part of their government, for example Israel describes itself as a “Jewish and democratic state” but makes no further reference as to how Judaism plays a part in the running of the government.
There are many cases of religion interfering with state matters. Whereas many states have always decreed that “freedom of religion” is a cornerstone of their constitutions, there are rules that seem to contradict this. There have been laws that state that politicians must declare that they are members of a certain religion before they are allowed to be elected to office, as well as cases where citizens have been executed by the state for not following a particular religion. There are also many more minor examples of times where religion has a place in the running of government:
- The Monarch of England is officially also the head of the Anglican Church by law and as such has to be Christian, even though 23% of British Citizens are atheist;
- All US bank notes bare the phrase “In God We Trust” despite the fact that the First Amendment to their constitution explicitly forbids forcing religious practices upon citizens;
- Turkey’s ruling political party The Justice and Development Party have passed laws that are based on religious restrictions from the Qur’an when the Turkish Constitution forbids a state religion.
The existence of a state religion has many advantages as well as its disadvantages. In a predominantly religious state, many citizens may feel that if laws were handed down from on high and religious texts were more important than constitutions the state would have more legitimacy. Equally atheists would claim this would rob states of legitimacy.
Do not assume that because a country is predominantly Christian or Muslim that its state religion follows the same trend. For example 80.5 % of India’s population is Hindu, but there is still no official state religion. On the other side of the scale many parts of the British Empire had Christianity as their state religion that was imposed on the indigenous peoples who believed in a myriad of other things.
The disadvantages of state religions can come from a variety of places. Subjects’ freedoms are often impaired because they may not be allowed to practice other faiths. Many in the west believe that Sharia law is used as an excuse to inflict atrocities that conflict with basic human rights. Many may have said the same thing about religion’s role in Pre-Renaissance Europe.
Glossary of TermsEdit
Secular means without religion. A person who does not believe in religion is an Atheist (a non-prophet organisation).
A Theocratic state (or theocracy) is one in which the heads of state are divinely gifted. Their mandate is given to them not by the subjects but by a divine being.
Sharia is an Arabic translation of the word “path”. Sharia Law is a series of rules as depicted in the Qur’an and often differs from Common Law in a few technicalities, although the spirit of the laws is often very similar and never malicious. Sharia Law is analogous to the Jewish Ten Commandments.
Disestablishment is the process through which a church or religion is removed from its influence in all state matters. The people who are for this movement are Disestablishmentarians and they practice Disestablishmentarianism (conversely those who are against this process are Antidisestablishmentarians and they practice Antidisestablishmentarianism).
State Church is a religion that is created by or overseen by the state, such as the Anglican Church that was founded by Henry VIII when he renounced Catholicism and the Pope. State Churches are often very different from State Religions. Whilst it is true that most Christians in England are Anglicans (they follow the Anglican Church), there is no law that states that they cannot be Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Jedi.