Religion or Religious States versus Secular Societies
A state religion (also called an official religion, established church or state church) is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. Practically, a state without a state religion is called a secular state. The term state church is associated with Christianity, and is sometimes used to denote a specific national branch of Christianity. Closely related to state churches are what sociologists call ecclesiae, though the two are slightly different.
State religions are examples of the official or government-sanctioned establishment of religion, as distinct from theocracy. It is also possible for a national church to become established without being under state control. The first national church was the Armenian Orthodox Church which was established in 301 A.D.
Types of Churches: The degree and nature of state backing for denomination or creed designated as a state religion can vary. It can range from mere endorsement and financial support, with freedom for other faiths to practice, to prohibiting any competing religious body from operating and to persecuting the followers of other sects. In Europe, competition between Catholic and Protestant denominations for state sponsorship in the 16th century evolved the principle [cuius regio eius religio - "states follow the religion of the ruler"] embodied in the text of the treaty that marked the Peace of Augsburg, 1555.
In England the monarch imposed Protestantism in 1533, with himself taking the place of the Pope, while in Scotland the Church of Scotland opposed the religion of the ruler. In some cases, a state may have a set of state-sponsored religious denominations that it funds; such is the case in Alsace-Moselle in France under its local law, following the pattern in Germany.
In some communist states, notably in North Korea and Cuba, the state sponsors religious organizations, and activities outside those state-sponsored religious organizations are met with various degrees of official disapproval. In these cases, state religions are widely seen as efforts by the state to prevent alternate sources of authority.
State church and State religion: There is also a difference between a “state church” and “state religion”. A “state church” is created by the state, as in the cases of the Anglican Church, created by Henry VIII or the Church of Sweden, created by Gustav Vasa. An example of “state religion” is Argentina’s acceptance of Roman Catholicism as its religion.
In the case of the former, the state has absolute control over the church, but in the case of the latter, in this example, the Vatican has control over the church.
Sociology of state churches: Sociologists refer to mainstream non-state religions as denominations. State religions tend to admit a larger variety of opinion within them than denominations. Denominations encountering major differences of opinion within themselves are likely to split; this option is not open for most state churches, so they tend to try to integrate differing opinions within themselves.
Many sociologists now consider the effect of a state church as analogous to a chartered monopoly in religion.Where state religions exist, it is usually true the majority of residents are officially considered adherents; however, much of this support is little more than nominal; many members of the church rarely attend it. But the population’s allegiance towards the state religion is often strong enough to prevent them from joining competing religious groups.
A denomination’s status as official religion does not always imply that the jurisdiction prohibits the existence or operation of other sects or religious bodies. It all depends upon the government and the level of tolerance the citizens of that country have for other religions.
Some countries with official religions have laws that guarantee the freedom of worship, full liberty of conscience, and places of worship for all citizens; and implement those laws more than other countries that do not have an official or established state religion.
Disestablishment: is the process of depriving a church of its status as an organ of the state. Supporters of retaining an established church call themselves “antidisestablishmentarianists”, meaning Secular state status
Canada: Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of religion. Progressively, case law has led to the overturning of specific laws that reflected religious observances (essentially Christian). Notwithstanding this, Roman Catholic schools are constitutionally protected and funded by taxes in some provinces.
England: In late-19th-century England there was a campaign by Liberals, dissenters and nonconformists to disestablish the Church of England which was viewed, in the period after civil Chartist activism, as a discriminatory organisation placing employment and other access disabilities on non-members.
The campaigners styled themselves “Liberationists” (the “Liberation Society” was founded by Edward Miall in 1853). Though their campaign failed, nearly all of the legal disabilities of nonconformists were gradually dismantled.
The campaign for disestablishment was revived in the 20th century when Parliament rejected the 1929 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, leading to calls for separation of Church and State to prevent political interference in matters of worship.
In the late 20th century, reform of the House of Lords also brought into question the position of the Lords Spiritual. Another issue of controversy is the Act of Settlement 1701 which determines succession to the British monarchy, under which the head of state is also the head of the Church of England.
Scotland: Despite some official documentation (marriage registrations being a common example) describing the Church of Scotland as the “Established Church” the Kirk has always disclaimed that status. This was eventually acknowledged by the United Kingdom government within the Church of Scotland Act 1921. Since it has thus never been legally Established it cannot be disestablished.
Wales: In Wales, four Church of England dioceses were disestablished in 1920, becoming separated from the Church of England in the process and subsequently becoming the Church in Wales.
Ireland: In Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom and where the majority of the population were Roman Catholic) the (Anglican) Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869 (effective 1871).
United States of America: The First Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly forbids the U.S. federal government from enacting any law respecting a religious establishment, and thus forbids either designating an official church for the United States, or interfering with State and local official churches which were common when the First Amendment was enacted.
It did not prevent state governments from establishing official churches. Connecticut continued to do so until it replaced its colonial Charter with the Connecticut Constitution of 1818; Massachusetts retained an establishment of religion in general until 1833.
The Massachusetts system required every man to belong to some church, and pay taxes towards it; while it was formally neutral between denominations, in practice the indifferent would be counted as belonging to the majority denomination, and in some cases religious minorities had trouble being recognized at all.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1868, makes no mention of religious establishment, but forbids the states to “abridge the privileges or immunities” of U.S. citizens, or to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. In the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court held that this later provision incorporates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as applying to the States, and thereby prohibits state and local religious establishments.
The exact boundaries of this prohibition are still disputed, and are a frequent source of cases before the US Supreme Court, especially as the Court must now balance, on a state (similar, but not equivalent to province) level, the First Amendment prohibitions on government establishment of official religions with the First Amendment prohibitions on government interference with the free exercise of religion. School prayer resulted in a controversy in contemporary US politics.
All current U.S. state constitutions include guarantees of religious liberty parallel to the First Amendment, but eight (Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) also contain clauses that prohibit atheists from holding public office.
However, these clauses have been held by the United States Supreme Court to be unenforceable in the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, where the court ruled unanimously that such clauses constituted a religious test incompatible with the religious test prohibition in Article 6 Section 3 of the United States Constitution.
Predominant (more than 90 percent of the population) religion in states which are secular;
Roman Catholic – Poland, Italy, Luxembourg, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela and East Timor
Lutheran – Sweden and Finland
Islam – Azerbaijan, Gambia, Maldives, Mali, Senegal, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
Buddhism – Burma
Present state religions: Currently, the following religions are recognized as state religions in some countries: some form of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Christian countries: state church: The following states recognize some form of Christianity as their state or official religion (by denomination);
Roman Catholic: Jurisdictions which recognize Roman Catholicism as their state or official religion:
- Costa Rica
Some Cantons of Switzerland:
- Appenzell Innerrhoden (declared “religion of the people of Appenzell Innerrhoden”)
Vatican City (Holy See) – Roman Catholic State
A number of countries give a special recognition to Catholicism in their constitution despite not making it the state religion include;
- Dominican Republic,
- El Salvador,
Eastern Orthodox: Jurisdictions which recognize one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches as their state religion:
- Cyprus (Cypriot Orthodox Church)
- Greece (Church of Greece)
- Finland: Finnish Orthodox Church has a special relationship with the Finnish state. The internal structure of the church is described in the Orthodox Church Act. The church has a power to tax its members and corporations if a majority of shareholders are members. The church does not consider itself a state church, as the state does not have the authority to affect its internal workings or theology.
Oriental Orthodox: Jurisdictions which recognize one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches as their state religion:
*Armenia (Armenian Apostolic Church)
Lutheran: Jurisdictions which recognize a Lutheran church as their state religion:
- Denmark (Church of Denmark)
- Iceland (Church of Iceland)
- Norway (Church of Norway)
- Finland: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has a special relationship with the Finnish state, its internal structure being described in a special law, the Church Act. The Church Act can be amended only by a decision of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and subsequent ratification by the parliament. The Church Act is protected by the Finnish constitution, and the state can not change the Church Act without changing the constitution. The church has a power to tax its members and all corporations unless a majority of shareholders are members of the Finnish Orthodox Church. The state collects these taxes for the church, for a fee. On the other hand, the church is required to give a burial place for everyone in its graveyards. The Finnish president also decides the themes for the intercession days. The church does not consider itself a state church, as the Finnish state does not have the power to influence its internal workings or its theology, although it has a veto in those changes of the internal structure which require changing the Church Act.
- Neither does the Finnish state accord any precedence to Lutherans or the Lutheran faith in its own acts.
Anglican: Jurisdictions that recognise an Anglican church as their state religion:
* England (Church of England)
Reformed: Jurisdictions which recognize a Reformed church as their state religion:
- Scotland (Church of Scotland)
- Tuvalu (Church of Tuvalu)
Old Catholic: Jurisdictions which recognize an Old Catholic church as their state religion:
Some cantons of Switzerland (Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland):
Political aspects of Islam, Sharia, Caliphate, Religious police and Islamism
Although the separation of church and state was first theorized by Averroes, most Muslim-majority countries recognize Islam as the state religion, but most of them do not place Sharia Law as the constitution itself.
- Afghanistan (Islamic state)
- Bangladesh (Islamic state)
- Indonesia (Uses Islamic jurisprudence in private law; and in Aceh special territory as a basic law. Officially also recognize Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism as religion, but they have much less influence in government and law).
- Iran (Islamic state)
- Malaysia (Not exactly an Islamic state but does have Sharia courts along with the secular courts)
- Mauritania (Islamic state)
- Pakistan (Islamic state)
- Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
- Saudi Arabia (Islamic kingdom)
- Somalia (the newly established coalition government announced in March 2009 that it would implement shari’a as the nation’s official judicial system.)
- United Arab Emirates
- Yemen (Islamic state)
Sunni Islam States:
- Saudi Arabia (as state-sanctioned religion)
- Indonesia (Aceh Special Province Only)
Shi’a Islam State:
*Iran (as state-sanctioned religion)
Buddhism as state religion: Governments which recognize Buddhism, either a specific form of, or the whole, as their official religion:
Bhutan (Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism)
Cambodia (Theravada Buddhism)
Kalmykia, a republic within the Russian Federation (Tibetan Buddhism – sole Buddhist entity in Europe)
Sri Lanka (Theravada Buddhism) – The constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place,” but Buddhism is not recognized as the state religion.
Thailand (Theravada Buddhism)
Tibet Government in Exile (Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism)
Israel is defined in several of its laws as a “Jewish and democratic state” (medina yehudit ve-demokratit).
The term “Jewish“ is a polyseme that can relate equally to the Jewish people or religion. The debate about the meaning of the term Jewish and its legal and social applications is one of the most profound issues with which Israeli society deals.
At present, there is no specific law or official statement establishing the Judaism as the state’s religion.
However, the State of Israel supports religious institutions, in particular Orthodox Torah Judaism and recognizes the “religious communities” as carried over from those recognized under the British Mandate. These are:
- Orthodox Judaism
- Christian (Eastern Orthodox,
- Latin [Catholic],
- Syrian [Catholic],
- Chaldean [Uniate],
- Greek Catholic
- Syrian Orthodox)
- Islam: The fact that the Muslim population was not defined as a religious community as a vestige of the Ottoman period during which Islam was the dominant religion and does not affect the rights of the Muslim community to practice their faith.
The Government has allowed adherents of not officially recognized groups freedom to practice. In 1961, legislation gave Muslim Shari’a courts exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status.
Three additional religious communities have subsequently been recognized by Israeli law;
- the Druze (prior under Islamic jurisdiction),
- the Evangelical Episcopal Church,
- the Bahá’í
These groups have their own religious courts as official state courts for personal status matters ( millet system).
The structure and goals of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel are governed by Israeli law, but the law does not say explicitly that it is a state Rabbinate.
Non-recognition of other streams of religions is the cause of some controversy. As of 2010, there is no civil marriage in Israel, although there is recognition of marriages performed abroad.
Nepal was once the world’s only Hindu state, but has ceased to be so following a declaration by the Parliament in 2006.
The Philippines is constituted as a de facto Roman Catholic-state with religious freedom guarantees.
In one region of the country is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which composed of all the country’s predominantly Muslim provinces, the Regional Assembly is empowered to legislate on matters covered by the Shari’ah. Such legislation, however, applies only to Muslims.
Many countries indirectly fund the activities of different religious denominations by granting tax-exempt status to churches and religious institutions which qualify as charitable organizations. However, these religions are not established as state religions.
Ancient State Religions
Egypt and Sumer: The concept of state religions was known as long ago as the empires of Egypt and Sumer, when every city state or people had its own god or gods.
- Many of the early Sumerian rulers were priests of their patron city god.
- Some of the earliest semi-mythological kings may have passed into the pantheon, like Dumuzid,
- some later kings came to be viewed as divine soon after their reigns, like Sargon the Great of Akkad.
- One of the first rulers to be proclaimed a god during his actual reign was Gudea of Lagash,
- followed by some later kings of Ur, such as Shulgi.
- Often, the state religion was integral to the power base of the reigning government, such as in Egypt,
- Pharaohs were often thought of as embodiments of the god Horus.
- Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the Sassanid dynasty which lasted until 651,
- 651 – Persia was conquered by the forces of Islam.
However, Zoroastrianism persisted as the state religion of the independent state of Hyrcania until the 15th century.
The tiny kingdom of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia converted to Judaism around 34 AD.
Greek city-states: Many of the Greek city-states also had a ‘god’ or ‘goddess’ associated with that city. This would not be the ‘only god’ of the city, but the one that received special honors.
- In ancient Greece the city of Athens had Athena,
- Sparta had Ares,
- Delphi had Apollo and Artemis,
- Olympia had Zeus
- Corinth had Poseidon,
- Thebes had Demeter
Roman Religion and Christianity: In Rome, the office of Pontifex Maximus came to be reserved for the emperor, who was often declared a ‘god’ posthumously, or sometimes during his reign.
Failure to worship the emperor as a god was at times punishable by death, as the Roman government sought to link emperor worship with loyalty to the Empire.
Many Christians and Jews were subject to persecution, torture and death in the Roman Empire, because it was against their beliefs to worship the emperor.
In 311, Emperor Galerius, on his deathbed, declared a religious indulgence to Christians throughout the Roman Empire, focusing on the ending of anti-Christian persecution.
Constantine I and Licinius, the two Augusti, by the Edict of Milan of 313, enacted a law allowing religious freedom to everyone within the Roman Empire.
The Edict of Milan cited that Christians may openly practice their religion unmolested and unrestricted, and provided that properties taken from Christians be returned to them unconditionally.
Although the Edict of Milan allowed religious freedom throughout the empire, it did not abolish nor disestablish the Roman state cult (Roman polytheistic paganism).
The Edict of Milan was written in such a way as to implore the blessings of the deity.
Constantine called up the First Council of Nicaea in 325, although he was not a baptised Christian until years later.
Despite enjoying considerable popular support, Christianity was still not the official state religion in Rome, although it was in some neighboring states such as Armenia and Aksum.
Roman Religion (Neoplatonic Hellenism) was restored for a time by Julian the Apostate from 361 to 363. Julian does not appear to have reinstated the persecutions of the earlier Roman emperors.
Catholic Christianity, as opposed to Arianism and other heretical and schismatic groups, was declared to be the state religion of the Roman Empire on February 27, 380 by the decree De Fide Catolica of Emperor Theodosius I.
Han Dynasty Confucianism
In China, the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) advocated Confucianism as the de facto state religion, establishing tests based on Confucian texts as an entrance requirement into government service.
The “Confucianism” advocated by the Han emperors may be termed as Confucian Legalism or “State Confucianism”.
Confucianism continued to be regarded by the emperors, with a few notable exceptions, as a form of state religion from this time until the overthrow of the imperial system of government in 1911.
There is a debate over whether Confucianism (including Neo-confucianism) is a religion or purely a philosophical system.
Empire of Japan
From the Meiji era to the first part of the Showa era, Koshitsu Shinto was established in Japan as the national religion.
According to this, the emperor of Japan was an arahitogami, an incarnate divinity and the offspring of goddess Amaterasu.
As the emperor was, according to the constitution, “head of the empire” and “supreme commander of the Army and the Navy”, every Japanese citizen had to obey his will and show absolute loyalty.
States without any state religion: These states do not profess any state religion, and are generally secular or laique. Countries which officially decline to establish any religion include:
- Australia (Forbidden under the Constitution of Australia)
- Brazil all states since 1988
- People’s Republic of China
- Republic of China (Taiwan)
- East Timor
- Israel (which considers itself a “a Jewish and democratic state”, although “Jewish” might be construed to refer to the people rather than the religion)
- Japan (Shinto until end of WWII)
- Kosovo (Independence partially recognised)
- Lebanon (although by custom the president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament a Shi’a Muslim.)
- Nepal (declared a secular state on May 18, 2006, by the newly resumed House of Representatives)
- New Zealand
- Nigeria (federally secular, but allowing for the institutionalization of Islam and sharia in the predominantly-Muslim northern states)
- North Korea
- Philippines (forbidden explicitly under Article III Section 5 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, however the Roman Catholic Church is a de facto state religion in the country)
- South Africa
- South Korea
- Sweden (Lutheran (Church of Sweden) until December 31, 1999.)
- United States (forbidden explicitly under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as implicitly in Article VI of the same document.)
- Puerto Rico (forbidden explicitly under Article II Section III of the Constitution of Puerto Rico. Also forbidden explicitly under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as implicitly in Article VI of the same document. Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States).
Established or dominant religions within the populations and former state religions
- Anhalt – Evangelical Church of Anhalt, Lutheran 1918
- Armenia - Armenian Apostolic Church, Oriental Orthodox 1921
- Austria - Roman Catholic Church 1918
- Baden - Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Baden Catholic and Lutheran 1918
- Bavaria - Roman Catholic Church 1918
- Bolivia – Roman Catholic Church 2009
- Brazil - Roman Catholic Church 1890
- Brunswick – Lüneburg Evangelical Lutheran, State Church of Brunswick Lutheran 1918
- Bulgaria – Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox 1946
- Chile – Roman Catholic Church 1925
- Cuba - Roman Catholic Church 1902
- Cyprus – Cypriot Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox 1977
- Czechoslovakia - Roman Catholic Church 1920
- Denmark - Church of Denmark, Lutheran
- England - Church of England, Anglican
- Estonia – Church of Estonia , Eastern Orthodox 1940
- Ethiopia – Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox 1974
- Finland – Lutheran [see notes]
- France – Roman Catholic Church 1905
- Georgia - Georgian Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox 1921
- Greece - Greek Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox
- Guatemala - Roman Catholic Church 1871
- Haiti - Roman Catholic Church 1987
- Hesse - Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau Lutheran 1918
- Hungary – Roman Catholic Church 1946
- Iceland - Lutheran Evangelical Church, Lutheran
- Ireland – Church of Ireland Anglican 1871
- Italy – Roman Catholic Church 1984
- Lebanon – Maronite Catholic Church/Islam Catholic/Islam
- Liechtenstein - Roman Catholic Church
- Lippe - Church of Lippe Reformed 1918
- Lithuania - Roman Catholic Church 1940
- Lübeck - North Elbian Evangelical Church, Lutheran 1918
- Luxembourg - Roman Catholic Church
- Republic of Macedonia – Macedonian Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox
- Malta - Roman Catholic Church
- Mecklenburg - Evangelical Church of Mecklenburg Lutheran 1918
- Mexico - Roman Catholic Church 1874
- Monaco – Roman Catholic Church
- Mongolia - Tibetan Buddhism 1926
- Netherlands - Dutch Reformed Church Reformed 1795
- Norway – Church of Norway Lutheran
- Oldenburg – Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oldenburg Lutheran 1918
- Panama – Roman Catholic Church 1904
- Paraguay - Roman Catholic Church 1992
- Philippines - Roman Catholic Church 1898
- Poland – Roman Catholic Church 1947
- Portugal - Roman Catholic Church 1910
- Prussia - 13 provincial churches Lutheran 1918
- Quebec,Canada - Roman Catholic Church 1960
- Romania – Romanian Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodox 1947
- Russia – Russian Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox 1917
- Thuringia – Evangelical Church in Thuringia Lutheran 1918
- Saxony – Evangelical Church of Saxony Lutheran 1918
- Schaumburg-Lippe - Evangelical Church of Schaumburg-Lippe Lutheran 1918
- Scotland – Church of Scotland, Presbyterian 1638.
- Serbia - Serbian Orthodox Church Eastern
- Spain – Roman Catholic Church 1978
- Sweden - Church of Sweden, Lutheran 2000
- Switzerland - none since the adoption of the Federal Constitution (1848)
- Turkey- Islam 1928
- Uruguay – Roman Catholic Church 1919
- Waldeck - Evangelical Church of Hesse-Kassel and Waldeck Lutheran 1918
- Wales - Church in Wales, Anglican 1920
- Württemberg - Evangelical State Church in Württemberg Lutheran 1918
Finland’s State Church was the Church of Sweden until 1809. As an autonomous Grand Duchy under Russia 1809-1917, Finland retained the Lutheran State Church system, and a state church separate from Sweden, later named the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, was established. It was detached from the state as a separate judicial entity when the new church law came to force in 1870.
After Finland had gained independence in 1917, religious freedom was declared in the constitution of 1919 and a separate law on religious freedom in 1922.
Through this arrangement, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland lost its position as a state church but gained a constitutional status as a national church alongside with the Finnish Orthodox Church, whose position however is not codified in the constitution.
In France the Concordat of 1801 made the Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Lutheran churches state-sponsored religions, as well as Judaism.
In Hungary the constitutional laws of 1848 declared five established churches on equal status: the Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox and Unitarian Church. In 1868 the law was ratified again after the Ausgleich.
In 1895 Judaism was also recognized as the sixth established religion
In 1948 every distinction between the different denominations were abolished.
The Polish March Constitution - Article 114 of 1921 declared the Roman Catholic Church to hold “the principal position among religious denominations equal before the law” (in reference to the idea of first among equals). The article was continued in force by article 81 of the April Constitution of 1935.
The Soviet-backed PKWN Manifesto of 1944 reintroduced the March Constitution, which remained in force until it was replaced by the Small Constitution of 1947.
The Church in Wales was split from the Church of England in 1920 by Welsh Church Act 1914; at the same time becoming disestablished.
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