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2/11/17

Democracy and Secularism go hand in hand and freedom of religion is part of that equation - by RM

Secularism - the only way Democracy can work
The word democracy means only that the people rule. Other than, perhaps, requiring freedom of speech and equal access to the ballot, indispensable requirements of self-rule, the notion of democracy sets no limits on what the people may do in their sovereign capacity.

All liberal constitutional democracies in the world impose restrictions on what private activity government may and should regulate, including, of course, religious behavior, and what values it may assimilate, and enforce, as its own.

There are several broad generalizations that can be made about the role and place of religion in liberal democracies. First, in a liberal democracy, citizenship is not dependent on adherence to an official religion or even a state approved religion. Religion, therefore, should never be the constitutive element of citizenship.

This principle is today accepted universally in the Western world. Equally well accepted is that in a liberal democracy the government may not penalize citizens because they profess a faith that is not shared by a majority of their fellow citizens. It is also settled that in a liberal democracy citizens enjoy the freedom to express their religious views, and to form institutions consistent with those views, without fear of punishment or civic disability.

Liberal democracies also assume that citizens should not be prevented from practicing their faith and that the government ought not to interfere with the religious decisions of citizens or their institutions.

This last principle is not always observed, at least as a matter of enforceable legal principle. In the United States the principle means only that the government may not single out religious practices for regulation. In the name of equal treatment of religious and nonreligious citizens, the courts have increasingly refused to recognize a special right to exemption from ostensibly neutral government regulation for religious practice, even though the constitutional text surely sounds as if one were intended. 

It is likewise universally accepted that liberal democracies cannot compel the doing of religious acts or attendance at worship services, although there is less than full agreement over the extent of this principle as it applies to children in state-run schools. Whether the state can compel participation in some form of prayer services, and, even if not, what constitutes coercion to participate in religious activities, are unfortunately still sharply disputed questions.

It should, in our opinion, however, be widely recognized that Secular Democracies can not and must never allow for any kind of worship in public schools financed by taxpayers monies. On the other hand, it should not deny that right to private schools financed by private funds.

The United States is the most religiously diverse country in the world. In no other nation can you find as many varied religious groups, beliefs and practices as there are there. The Founding Fathers recognized in their own times the great theological differences among not only different religions, but also among the many Protestant sects.

They saw the tyranny that government-sponsored religion wrought. That is why the US has a secular constitution – and Bill of Rights—that provide strict protections for religious practice and safeguards against government-endorsed religion. The US  secular government and protections of religion are what have allowed religion to flourish and grow there.

However, there has been a constant stream of legislation and executive action to impose religious ideas into law with the mistaken belief that what is good for one group of religious people should be good for everyone.This is absolutely not permissible in a Secular Democracy.

The truest test of religious freedom within a Secular Democratic State is not the ability of every religious group to do as it pleases, but for every individual to be able to freely choose his or her own religious or nonreligious path without recrimination or consequence.

Bottom-line - religious freedom should be an equal part within every Secular Democracy but nothing more or less than that. 

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