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Separation of church and state is a political and legal doctrine that government and religious institutions are to be kept separate and independent from each other. The term most often refers to the combination of two principles: secularity of government and freedom of religious exercise.

Reflecting a concept often credited in its original form to the English political philosopher John Locke , the phrase separation of church and state is generally traced to the letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists, in which he referred to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as creating a "wall of separation" between church and state. The phrase was quoted by the United States Supreme Courtmarker first in 1878, and then in a series of cases starting in 1947. This led to increased popular and political discussion of the concept.

The concept has since been adopted in a number of countries, to varying degrees depending on the applicable legal structures and prevalent views toward the proper role of religion in society. A similar principle of laïcité has been applied in Francemarker and Turkeymarker, while some socially secularized countries such as Norwaymarker have maintained constitutional recognition of an official state religion. The concept parallels various other international social and political ideas, including secularism, disestablishment, religious liberty, and religious pluralism.

History of the concept and term


In antiquity, religion or spiritual practices helped inform government among many cultures, including China, Greece, Palestine, Japan, and Egypt.

Under republican government religious officials were appointed just like political ones. Ancient Israel was different in as much as the King and the priesthood were separate and limited to their respective spheres of authority and responsibility, though interferences did happen as well. Later, under foreign supremacy, the high priest also held the highest civil authority in an autonomous theocracy.

Ancient China

The Shang Dynasty, being the government of a polytheistic culture, claimed to have been founded by gods. They practiced divination from oracle bones, and Heaven was thought by the Chinese to be intimately involved in affairs of state. The Zhou Dynasty, which overthrew the Shang, codified this theological theory as the Mandate of Heaven, starting with the writings of the Duke of Zhou.

According to the Mandate, there was only one Heaven, and thus only one ruler of China; the right to rule China was at the will of Heaven and was based on the virtue of the ruler. This right was not limited to one dynasty; thus, revolutions could legitimately occur, so long as they were successful. Because the right to rule was closely linked to Heaven, the worship of Heaven was intertwined with government.

Ancient Japan

In ancient Japan, the relationship between "Church" and "State" was apparently strong at one time, before the Nara period and Heian period, as the Imperial House of Japan claims to be descended from the Goddess Amaterasu. However, the Imperial house essentially lost control of the government, although the Emperor continued to serve as a high priest of sorts. The Fujiwara clan took the reins of state, and so there may have been a de facto separation between church and state, but not an official separation. (Subsequent shogunates did make policies with respect to religion; for instance, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu both banned Catholicism. After the modern-era Meiji Restoration, Japan had a state religion, State Shinto.)

Roman Empire

In the Roman republic, religious officials were appointed in the same manner as political officials. The early Roman emperors held the state's highest religious office, pontifex maximus, and were often deified after death. (Ref. Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars). Later they were commonly regarded as divine while living.

From the time of Augustus, the election of pontifices ended and membership into the sacred college was deemed a sign of imperial favour. With this attribution, the new office of Emperor was given a religious dignity and the responsibility for the entire Roman state cult. Most authors contend that the power of naming the Pontifices was not really used as an instrumentum regni, an enforcing power. From this point on, Pontifex Maximus was one of the many titles of the Emperor, slowly losing its specific and historical powers and becoming simply a referent for the sacral aspect of imperial duties and powers.

The role of the Emperor as Pontifex Maximus was challenged by Christians and Jews who acknowledged the Emperor's political authority but refused to participate in the state's religion or to recognize the emperor's divinity. While the Jews were exempted from this demand, Christians were considered enemies of the state and adherence to Christianity was punishable by death (e.g., Justin Martyr under Marcus Aurelius). At various times this resulted in violent persecutions until the Edict of Milan in 313.

Christianization of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire formally became Christian by edict of Theodosius I in 380. The early Christian Emperors continued to use the title Pontifex Maximus until it was relinquished by Gratian.

In 382, the Emperor Gratian, at the urging of St. Ambrose, removed the Altar of Victory from the Forum, withdrew the state subsidies that funded many pagan activities and formally renounced the title of Pontifex Maximus.

It is said that Pope Damasus I was the first Bishop of Rome to assume the title, Other sources say that the use of such titles by bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, came later. The title pontifex continued to be a title for both the bishop of Rome and other bishops.

Without quoting its source, the Encyclopædia Britannica attributes to Pope Leo I (440-461) the assumption of the title Pontifex Maximus. Others say, again without quoting documentary evidence, that it was more than a century later when a Pope (Gregory I) employed "Pontifex Maximus" for the first time.

After Christ himself, the pope is the "high priest" (the veritable meaning of summus pontifex and "pontifex maximus") of the Catholic religion.

When Rome fell, Europe balkanized, with the result that there was one Pontifex Maximus giving religious direction to several countries. Kings and governments were free to contend with, or cooperate with, the Pope, as well as one another.

Late Antiquity in Europe

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, there emerged no single powerful secular government in the West, but there was a central ecclesiastical power in Rome, the Christian Church. In this power vacuum, the Church rose to become the dominant power in the West. As the Church expanded beginning in the 10th century, and as secular kingdoms rose in power at the same time, there naturally arose the conditions for a power struggle between Church and Kingdom over ultimate authority.

The conflict between Church and state was in many ways a uniquely Western phenomenon originating in Late Antiquity (see Saint Augustine's masterpiece City of God (417)) . Contrary to Augustinian theology, the Papal Statesmarker in Italymarker, today downsized to the State of Vaticanmarker, were ruled directly by the Holy See.

Eastern Roman Empire

The survival of the Roman Empire in the East assured an active role of the Emperor in the affairs of the Church. In the Eastern Roman Empire, Eastern Orthodoxy was the state religion, and the Emperor had considerable power in the affairs of the Church (appointing the Patriarch of Constantinople and convoking Ecumenical Councils), but the emperors were above neither the dogmas nor the canons of the Church. Church and state were separate and collaborated in a "symphony", with some exceptions (see Iconoclasm). The Byzantine state inherited from pagan times the administrative, and financial routine of administering religious affairs, and this routine was applied to the Christian Church. Following the pattern set by Eusebius of Caesarea, the Byzantines viewed the Emperor as a representative or messenger of Christ, responsible particularly for the propagation of Christianity among pagans, and for the "externals" of the religion, such as administration and finances. The imperial role, however, in the affairs of the Church never developed into a fixed, legally defined system.

Islamic Caliphate and Ottoman Empire

The concept of separation of church and state would have been very foreign in Islamic society of the time. (Mohammad had been a prophet and conquerer, and his successors were caliphs, emperors with governments closely intertwined with religion. When the caliphates fell apart, their successor states remained loyal to Islam as a state religion.) When the Ottomans, who would claim to be caliphs in their own right, conquered Constantinoplemarker (now Istanbulmarker) in 1453, the Emperor was killed. The position of Ecumenical Patriarch was given to Gennadius II Scholarius by the conquering Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, who took the title of "Kayser-i Rûm" and continued to practice the right of the Roman Emperor to appoint the Patriarch of Constantinople. Islam would, of course, become the favored religion of the new empire.

Medieval Europe

For centuries, monarchs ruled by the idea of divine right, which said the king ruled both Crown and Church, a theory known as caesaropapism. On the other side was the belief that the Pope, as vicar of God on earth, should have the ultimate authority over the state. Moreover, throughout the Middle Ages the Pope claimed the right to depose the Catholic kings of Western Europe and tried to exercise it, sometimes successfully (see the investiture controversy, below), sometimes not, such as was the case with Henry VIII of Englandmarker and Henry III of Navarremarker.

In the West, the issue of the separation of church and state during the medieval period centered on monarchs who ruled in the secular sphere but encroached on the Church's rule of the spiritual sphere. This unresolved contradiction in ultimate control of the Church led to power struggles and crises of leadership, notably in the Investiture Controversy, that resulted in a number of important events in the development of the west.


At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther articulated a doctrine of the two kingdoms. According to James Madison, perhaps one of the most important modern proponents of the separation of church and state, Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms marked the beginning of the modern conception of separation of church and state.

In the 1530s Henry VIII, angered by the Catholic Church's refusal to annul his marriage with his wife Catherine of Aragon, decided to break with the Church and set himself as ruler of the new Church of England, The Anglican Church, ending the separation that had existed between Church and State in England.

United States

The concept of separating church and state is often credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke. According to his principle of the social contract, Locke argued that the government lacked authority in the realm of individual conscience, as this was something rational people could not cede to the government for it or others to control. For Locke, this created a natural right in the liberty of conscience, which he argued must therefore remain protected from any government authority. These views on religious tolerance and the importance of individual conscience, along with his social contract, became particularly influential in the American colonies and the drafting of the United States Constitution. Indeed such was Locke's influence, Thomas Jefferson stated: "Bacon, Locke and Newton..I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the physical and moral sciences"

The concept was implicit in the flight of Roger Williams from religious oppression in Massachusetts to found what became Rhode Island on the principle of state neutrality in matters of faith.
The phrase "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to a group identifying themselves as the Danbury Baptists. In that letter, referencing the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:It was clear, however, that Jefferson did not espouse a viewpoint that divorced all inferences of religion in government. Perhaps the best example of this is the fact that he appropriated federal funds for what today would be considered a violation of "separation of church and state." The treaty approved stated :
Jefferson used federal monies to teach the Indians the Gospel of Jesus Christ. he personally authored "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth". He approved funding while president for this. Annual support for the Tribe's Roman Catholic priest and church. The treaty approved stated :"And whereas, the greater part of the Tribe having been baptized and received into the Catholic Church, to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion.. and.. three hundred dollars to assist the said Tribe in the erection of a church"

Jefferson was also asked about meaning of the constitution later. He did not mince words but plainly spoke of its meaning not being twisted by those who would seek to either undermine its original meaning or invent that its clearly defined statements meant something they did not. Once more, Jefferson in his own words:"On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed"

Another early user of the term was James Madison, the principal drafter of the United States Bill of Rights. In a recorded conversation surrounding the meaning of the 1st Amendment being offered the following was said: August 15, 1789. Mr. [Peter] Sylvester [of New York] had some doubts...He feared it [the First Amendment] might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether...Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry [of Massachusetts] said it would read better if it was that "no religious doctrine shall be established by law."...Mr. [James] Madison [of Virginia] said he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that "Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law."...[T]he State[s]...seemed to entertain an opinion that under the clause of the enabled them [Congress] to make laws of such a nature as might...establish a national religion; to prevent these effects he presumed the amendment was intended...Mr. Madison thought if the word "National" was inserted before religion, it would satisfy the minds of honorable gentlemen...He thought if the word "national" was introduced, it would point the amendment directly to the object it was intended to prevent.Madison contended "Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body." Several years later he wrote of "total separation of the church from the state." "Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States," Madison wrote, and he declared, "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States." In a letter to Edward Livingston Madison further expanded, "We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Govt." This attitude is further reflected in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally authored by Thomas Jefferson, but championed by Madison, and guaranteeing that no one may be compelled to finance any religion or denomination.

Under the United States Constitution, the treatment of religion by the government is broken into two clauses: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. While both are discussed in the context of the separation of church and state, it is more often discussed in regard to whether certain state actions would amount to an impermissible government establishment of religion.

The phrase was also mentioned in an eloquent letter written by President John Tyler on July 10, 1843.

The United States Supreme Court has referenced the separation of church and state metaphor more than 25 times, first in 1878. In Reynolds, the Court denied the free exercise claims of Mormons in the Utah territory who claimed polygamy was an aspect of their religious freedom. The Court used the phrase again by Justice Hugo Black in 1947 in Everson. The term has been used and defended heavily by the Court, but is not unanimously held. In a minority opinion in Wallace v. Jaffree, Justice Rehnquist presented the view that the establishment clause was intended to protect local establishments of religion from federal interference. Justice Scalia has criticized the metaphor as a bulldozer removing religion from American public life.

International views

Countries have varying degrees of separation between government and religious institutions. While the United States is recognized as the first country to completely disestablish its government from any religion in its Constitution ratified in 1791, a number of other countries have since followed. Nevertheless, the degree of actual separation between government and religion or religious institutions varies widely. In some countries the two institutions remain heavily interconnected. There are new conflicts in the post-Communist world.

In the United States the "Separation of Church and State" is generally discussed as a political and legal principle derived from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." The concept of separation is commonly credited to the combination of the two clauses: the establishment clause, generally interpreted as preventing the government from establishing a national religion, providing tax money in support of religion, or otherwise favoring any single religion or religion generally; and the free exercise clause, ensuring that private religious practices are not restricted by the government. The effect of prohibiting direct connections between religious and governmental institutions while protecting private religious freedom and autonomy has been termed the "separation of church and state."

Nevertheless, issues of free exercise are also implicated by the extent to which laws are permitted to impinge upon private religious practice. In the United Statesmarker, state laws can prohibit practices such as bigamy, sex with children, human and occasionally animal sacrifice, use of drugs, or other criminal acts, even if citizens claim the practices are part of their religious belief system. However, the federal courts give close scrutiny to any state or local laws that impinge upon what the courts consider the bona fide exercise of religious practices. The courts ensure that genuine and important religious rights are not impeded, and that questionable practices are limited only to the extent necessary. The courts usually demand that any laws restricting religious practices must demonstrate a fundamental or "compelling" state interest such as protecting citizens from bodily harm.

The many variations on separation can be seen in some countries with high degrees of religious freedom and tolerance combined with strongly secular political cultures which have still maintained state churches or financial ties with certain religious organizations into the 21st century. In Englandmarker, there is a constitutionally established state religion but other faiths are tolerated. The British monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and 26 bishops (Lords Spiritual) sit in the upper house of government, the House of Lordsmarker.

In Norwaymarker, the King is also the leader of the state church, and the 12th article of the Constitution of Norway requires more than half of the members of the Norwegian Council of State to be members of the state church. Yet, the second article guarantees freedom of religion, while also stating that Evangelical Lutheranism is the official state religion. In countries like these, the head of government or head of state or other high-ranking official figures may be legally required to be a member of a given faith. Powers to appoint high-ranking members of the state churches are also often still vested in the worldly governments. These powers may be slightly anachronistic or superficial, however, and disguise the true level of religious freedom the nation possesses. In the case of Andorra there are two heads of state. One is the Bishop of Seu d'Urgell, a town located in Catalunya. He has the title of Episcopalian Coprince. Coprinces enjoy political power in terms of law ratification and constitutional court designation, among others.

Two common examples of the most active type of separation are France and Turkey. The French version of separation is called laïcité. This model of a secularist state protects the religious institutions from some types of state interference, but with public religious expression also to some extent limited. This aims to protect the public power from the influences of religious institutions, especially in public office. Religious views which contain no idea of public responsibility, or which consider religious opinion irrelevant to politics, are less impinged upon by this type of secularization of public discourse. Turkeymarker, whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim, is also considered to have practiced the laïcité school of secularism since 1923. While France comes from a Roman Catholic tradition and Turkey from an Islamic one, secularism in Turkey and secularism in France present many similarities.

Commentators have posited that the form of church-state separation enacted in France in 1905 and found in the Spanish Constitution of 1931 are of a "hostile" variety, noting that the hostility of the state toward the church was a cause of the breakdown of democracy and the onset of the Spanish Civil War. President Nicolas Sarkozy has criticised this approach as a "negative laicite" and wants to develop a "positive laicite" that recognizes the contribution of faith to French culture, history and society, allows for faith in the public discourse and for government subsidies for faith-based groups. Sarkozy sees France's main religions as positive contributions to French society. He was elected on a platform proposing a modernisation of the Republic's century-old principle of laicite. He visited the Pope in December 2007 and publicly acknowledged France's Christian roots, while highlighting the importance of freedom of thought , hinting that faith should come back into the public sphere.

Nevertheless, even France and Turkey present certain entanglements involving funding to certain religious institutions of the kind which has not been permitted in the United States. In Turkey for example, despite it being an officially secular country, the Preamble of the Constitution states that "There shall be no interference whatsoever of the sacred religious feelings in State affairs and politics."In order to control the way religion is perceived by adherents, the State pays imams' wages (only for Sunni Muslims), and provides religious education (of the Sunni Muslim variety) in public schools. The State has a Department of Religious Affairs, directly under the Prime Minister bureaucratically, responsible for organizing the Sunni Muslim religion - including what will and will not be mentioned in sermons given at mosques, especially on Fridays. Such an interpretation of secularism, where religion is under strict control of the State is very different from that of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and is a good example of how secularism can be applied in a variety of ways in different regions of the world.

Mexico was guided toward what was proclaimed a separation of church and state by Benito Juarez who, in 1859, attempted to eliminate the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the nation by appropriating its land and prerogatives.In 1859 the Ley Lerdo was issued - purportedly separating church and state, but actually involving state intervention in Church matters by abolishing monastic orders, and nationalizing church property. To this day all churches are owned by the Government of Mexico.

Japan under the military occupation government of General Douglas Macarthur, made separation of religion and state a major priority.

In contrast to separation, and varying by degrees, are theocracy, anticlericalism, state religion or state atheism, where either the state intrudes upon religion, or visa versa.

The belief that authority derives from a God and diffuses downward through a monarch was promoted by the French philosopher Jean Bodin. His ideas were naturally welcomed by the Bourbon and Stuart monarchs who advocated the alleged "divine right of kings." The duty of the common people was simply to obey God and the king. This concept of Jean Bodin was contradicted by the founders of the American republic who saw the source of authority as being both the social contract (i.e. popular sovereignty) and natural law (i.e. rights "endowed by their Creator").

The discussion over the separation of church and state is often connected with the general divide between the concepts of secularism and theocracy. While the term "secularism" was first coined by the Britishmarker writer George Holyoake in 1846 (more than half a century after the ratification of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and nearly as long after Jefferson's reference to the "Wall of Separation"), it has since come to denote the general concept of separating religion from other aspects of social life, and particularly from the governmental sphere. As such, outside of the United Statesmarker (where Jefferson's metaphor of the "Wall of Separation" has less importance), and to some extent in the United States as well, the discussion of secularism versus theocracy has come to provide the broader rubric for discussing the relationship between religion and government.


Catholic views

Pope Gregory XVI wrote in his encyclical Mirari Vos: "Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty."

On December 8, 1864, on the same day as the Pope's encyclical Quanta Cura, the Holy See under Pope Pius IX issued a document titled Syllabus of Errors ( ). This document listed 80 specific assertions which it declared to be erroneous. Assertion number 55 in this list, in the section headed "Errors about civil society, considered both in itself and in its relation to the Church", reads: "The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church." In the encyclical, he wrote: "Which false and perverse opinions are on that ground the more to be detested, because they chiefly tend to this, that that salutary influence be impeded and (even) removed, which the Catholic Church, according to the institution and command of her Divine Author, should freely exercise even to the end of the world — not only over private individuals, but over nations, peoples, and their sovereign princes; and (tend also) to take away that mutual fellowship and concord of counsels between Church and State which has ever proved itself propitious and salutary, both for religious and civil interests."

Pope Leo XIII, furthermore, wrote in his encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum: "There are others, somewhat more moderate though not more consistent, who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. Nature herself proclaims the necessity of the State providing means and opportunities whereby the community may be enabled to live properly, that is to say, according to the laws of God. For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enact menu."

Pope Pius X condemned the separation of Church and state in France in his encyclical Vehementer Nos, writing: "That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. … Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State."

The work of Jesuit priest and theologian John Courtney Murray in the 1960s was significant as he developed a theological justification of the separation view based upon St. Thomas Aquinas' observation that there existed a necessary distinction between morality and civil law; that the latter is limited in its capacity in cultivating moral character through criminal prohibitions. As Murray said, "it is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong." The Vatican eventually demanded that he cease writing on the matter of religious liberty, until he was invited to the second session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, where he drafted the third and fourth versions of what eventually became the council's endorsement of religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae Personae, in 1965..

In 1965 the Second Vatican Council declared in "Gaudium et spes":
The role and competence of the Church being what it is, she must in no way be confused with the political community, nor bound to any political system. For she is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person. In their respective spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing.

The Catholic Church's 1983 Code of Canon law, while not laying down general rules about relations between Church and State, considers that a religious and moral education in harmony with the conscience of the pupils' parents is an integral part of education, and obliges Catholics to try to secure its inclusion: "Christ's faithful are to strive to secure that in the civil society the laws which regulate the formation of the young also provide a religious and moral education in the schools that is in accord with the conscience of the parents" (canon 799)

In October 2008 Pope Benedict XVI said in a Papal address to a visiting ambassador, with reference to the Church, that:
She carries out this mission fully aware of the respective autonomy and competence of Church and State. Indeed, we may say that the distinction between religion and politics is a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions.

Baptist views

Historically, Baptists and Mennonites have supported separation of church and state. In particular, many radical Anabaptist movements, sensitised by the persecution they suffered under both Protestant and Catholic authorities, held that the state should not interfere in religious affairs and vice-versa. One of the earliest calls for separation came from Thomas Helwys, the founder of the first Baptist Church in England. In his last written work, A Short Declaration on the Mystery of Iniquity, he penned a note inside the cover of a single copy that was intended for King James. Whether the King received it or not is disputed, but Helwys was later arrested and placed in Newgate Prison. The words that got him in trouble were as follows (spelling is updated to modern conventions):

Another formal plea for separation of church and state in England, called Religious Peace: or, a Plea for Liberty of Conscience. was written to King James by a London citizen named Leonard Busher, a man later identified as an Anabaptist. In 1868 the renowned Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon perhaps best summed up the separationist Baptist stand thus:

American Baptists also claim as a forebear Roger Williams, who fled Massachusetts Colony in order to establish a haven for religious liberty at Providence Plantation, now Rhode Island. He had suffered persecution for his religiously nonconformist beliefs, and had witnessed the oppression of Quakers. Consequently, he set up the new colony as a place where all religions could practice freely.

In more recent years, the foremost Baptist witness in the United States for the protection of separation of church and state has been the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. An education and advocacy group in Washington, D.C., the Baptist Joint Committee is affiliated with fourteen Baptist bodies collectively representing over 10 million Baptists in the United States.

Islamic views

Many Muslims argue that unlike Christianity, Islam does not separate religion from state. They also argue that it is apolitical Islam, not political Islam that requires a religious explanation, and that the "shortlived heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970" is an historical fluke.

Islamists and Islamic jurists, such as the Wahhabis and Salafists, consider the Western concept of separation of Church and State to be rebellion against God's law. Islamists believe that the application of Islamic religious law, known as Sharia law, should be the paramount source of legal authority. Many of those described as "Islamists" oppose the use of the term, maintaining that they are simply Muslims, and that their political beliefs and goals are an expression of Islamic religious belief. Similarly, some scholars favour the term "activist Islam" instead or "political Islam".

In contrast, scholar Olivier Roy argues that "a defacto separation between political power" of Sultans and Emirs and religious power of the Caliph was "created and institutionalized ... as early as the end of the first century of the hegira," and that what has been lacking in the Muslim world is "political thought regarding the autonomy of this space." No positive law was developed outside of Sharia. The sovereign's religious function was to defend the Islamic community against its enemies, institute the sharia, ensure the public good (maslaha). The state was instrument to enable Muslims to live as good Muslims and Muslims were to obey the sultan if he did so. The legitimacy of the ruler was "symbolized by the right to coin money and to have the Friday prayer (Jumu'ah khutba) said in his name."

In Europe and North America, a number of Muslim organisations have the demand for Islamic democracy in their mission statements. There is a contemporary debate in Islam whether obedience to Islamic law is ultimately compatible with the Western secular pattern, which separates religion from civic life. However, some majority Muslim nations are secular, such as Turkeymarker, Senegalmarker, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Azerbaijanmarker which previously have had military coups and wars to keep secularism in government and prevent islam from gaining power.

Jewish views

Even in religious Judaism there is much room for a range of political or moral views; this is only more so for secular Jews. However, even Jewish secular culture is often strongly influenced by moral beliefs deriving from Jewish scripture and tradition. In recent centuries, non-Orthodox Jews in Europe and the Americas have traditionally tended towards the political left, and played key roles in the birth of the labor movement as well as socialism. While Diaspora Jews have also been represented in the conservative side of the political spectrum, even politically conservative Jews have tended to support pluralism more consistently than many other elements of the political right. Some scholars attribute this to the fact that Jews are not expected to proselytize, and as a result do not expect a single world-state, which differs from the beliefs of many religions, such as the Roman Catholic and Islamic traditions; rather, since in Jewish theology the religions of most nations are respected, there was never any perceived reason to convert others. This lack of a universalizing religion is combined with the fact that most Jews live as minorities in their countries, and that no worldwide central Jewish religious authority has existed for over 2,000 years. (See also the list of Jews in politics, which illustrates the diversity of Jewish political thought and of the roles Jews have played in politics.)

Other views

Since the 5th century, the Coptic Church has advocated separation of church and state. Unitarian Universalists and Humanists also advocate separation of church and state.

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "opponents of church-state separation, led by the Religious Right, extol the “traditional” family of a married couple with children. While many American families fit this mold, others do not. All loving families, regardless of their composition, deserve support from government and society. The government must not deny adoption, child custody and other fundamental rights to families labeled “non-traditional” because of religious bias or narrow interpretations of holy books held by certain religious believers. The government must also recognize that while many couples choose to be married in a house of worship, marriage itself is ultimately a civil institution; access to it should not be defined or limited because of religious strictures [...] A crusade is under way to add a “marriage amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the drive is ostensibly to bar the federal and state governments from recognizing marriages between gay couples, although the amendment also would eradicate hundreds of legal rights that gay and lesbian families currently enjoy under a number of state and local laws. Americans United believes that the campaign to place a marriage amendment in the Constitution raises important church-state and religious liberty concerns."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long held to the doctrine of separation of church and state originating in part from the long antagonism local and state governments have had towards their faith. Mormon writings have affirmed "[n]o domination of the state by the church; No church interference with the functions of the state; No state interference with the functions of the church, or with the free exercise of religion; The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs; The equality of all churches before the law." Two of the Church's 13 official Articles of Faith, which outline the basic beliefs of the church, that: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law" and "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."Church founder Joseph Smith wrote, "We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it,... but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul. THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS : SECTION 134,;

^ , Section 134:4.

Seventh-day Adventist

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a long tradition of advocating the separation of church and state, due to Sabbath-keeping persecution early in their history. Adventist writings suggest that the separation of church and state will eventually be undermined in the United States of America, and persecution for a person's religious beliefs will ensue.

Friendly and hostile separation

Scholars have distinguished between what are sometimes called "friendly" and "hostile" separations of church and state.Maier, Hans and Jodi Bruhn Totalitarianism and Political Religions, pp. 109 2004 Routledge The friendly type limits the interference of the church in matters of the state but also limits the interference of the state in church matters. The hostile variety, by contrast, seeks to confine religion purely to the home or church and limits religious education, religious rites of passage and public displays of faith.

The hostile model of militant secularism arose with the French Revolution and is typified in the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Constitution of 1931. The hostile model exhibited during these events can be seen as approaching the type of political religion seen in totalitarian states.

The French separation of 1905 and the Spanish separation of 1931 have been characterized as the two most hostile of the twentieth century, although the current schemes in those countries are considered generally friendly. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, however, still considers the current scheme a "negative laicite" and wants to develop a "positive laicite" more open to religion. The hostilities of the state toward religion have been seen as a cause of civil war in Spain and Mexico.

The French philosopher and a drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Jacques Maritain, noted the distinction between the models found in France and in the mid-twentieth century United States. He considered the U.S. model of that time to be more amicable, because it had both "sharp distinction and actual cooperation" between church and state, what he called "an historical treasure", and he admonished the United States: "Please to God that you keep it carefully, and do not let your concept of separation veer round to the European one."

See also

American examples



Islam and secularism debate


  1. Chan, Shun-hing and Beatrice Leung (2003). Changing Church and State Relations in Hong Kong, 1950-2000. Hong Kong University Press, pg 12. ISBN 9622096123. "These oft-quoted clauses of Jefferson's theory of a 'wall of separation' reflect two significant foundations of Church-State relations in the US. Firstly, the separation of Church and State stands as a constitutional principle that promotes democracy and protects the religious freedom of all Americans equally. Secondly, this principle emerges as a unique American contribution to political theory (Feldman 1997, 4)."
  2. {{Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 29 ("It took John Locke to translate the demand for liberty of conscience into a systematic argument for distinguishing the realm of government from the realm of religion.")
  3. Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists (June 1998) - Library of Congress Information Bulletin
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  5. .
  6. .
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  9. Emperor Gratian Roman Emperors retrieved August 15, 2006
  10. Pontifex Maximus Mark Bonocore retrieved August 15, 2006. This seems to be based on the Theodosian Code, XVI.i.2, which refers to Pope Damasus merely as a pontifex, not as the pontifex maximus. The Christian Apostolic Succession, The Role and Function of Thelemic Clergy in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, retrieved 22 August 2006, states that Damasus refers to himself as Pontifex Maximus in a petition to the Emperor for judicial immunity, but gives no source for this statement.
  11. "Christian emperors relinquished the title Pontifex Maximus as too closely tied with the pagan past (Schimmelpfennig, 34). Bishops, including the bishop of Rome, sometime thereafter, began to make use of pontifex as a title for themselves" ( John D. Beetham, Papal Prerogatives and Titles, 5 September 2001 (emphasis added).
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  33. Lee v. Weisman,
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  35. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Norway
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  66. Carson, D. A. Christ And Culture Revisited, p. 189, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008

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