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The secular state and religious pluralism

The secular state and religious pluralism

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The secular state and religious pluralism

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  1. The secular state and religious pluralism METROPOLIS / Ottawa / September 23, 2009 Micheline Milot, Ph.D. milot.micheline@uqam.ca

  2. OUTLINE • Secular governance • General characteristics • Canadian characteristics • Religion in the public sphere • Current religious diversity issues • Topics of debate • Public policy: recognition issues

  3. 1. Secular governance • Frequent associations • French model • Religion confined to private life • Individuals must be secular like institutions

  4. Four principles of secularism • Two principles of law • Freedom of conscience and religion • Equality/non-discrimination • Two ways of applying them • Neutral state • Separation of church and state

  5. Historical goals • Social peace • End of systemic discrimination • No second-class citizens • Being different without being ostracized

  6. Freedom of conscience and religion • Right to believe what one wants to believe • Right to express one’s beliefs or non-belief • Right to change religions or not belong to any …without fear of impediment or reprisal

  7. Consequences of freedom of conscience • Recognition that there are different ideas of what constitutes a good life in a society that accepts pluralism • Prevention from being discriminated against on the basis of beliefs In a free and democratic society, people do not believe the way others want them to believe.

  8. Equality • Between people – believers and non-believers alike • Between religious traditions • Between men and women • Political rights independent of religious affiliation or non-affiliation • Does not mean uniformity • Treating everyone the same can be unfair

  9. Neutral state: Two dimensions • The state respects all ideas of what constitutes a good life (believers and non-believers) • Linked to the person’s moral dignity • The state does not decide which beliefs are “normal” or “acceptable” • The state has no theological jurisdiction Limits: Actual breach of the rights of others or attack on security, public order or physical integrity

  10. To what does neutrality apply? • The establishment of policies and statutes • Institutional regulations • Respect for others and their differences • Respect for guaranteed rights and freedoms • Impartiality of decisions made or services provided by government employees

  11. Separation of church and state • Need to ensure neutrality • Independence of the state from faiths and of faiths from the state • Political order is free to develop collective standards in the general interest of the population • Religion, like any other form of association, is part of common law

  12. Canada • Importance of freedom of conscience and equality • Neutrality of the state is paramount • No state religion in Canada • Preamble to the Constitution (“supremacy of God”): no meaningful scope • = implicit secularism

  13. 2. Religion in the public arena • “New” visibility • Integrated into common institutions (not separate institutions) • Different perspectives: private life vs. public life • Perspectives on culture sometimes based more on community than on individuals

  14. Reasonable accommodation • Compatible with the neutrality of the state • Not aimed at changing the general workings of institutions • To eliminate indirect discrimination • Or to not impede freedom of conscience and freedom of religion

  15. Public expression of religious affiliation: Debate • Fear of communitarianism, which would be detrimental to integration • Supposed refusal to share common values • Risk of regression and imposition of archaic values (equality of men and women) • Consequences of prohibiting the expression of religious affiliation

  16. Threat to integration? • Process of generalizing believers to a community presumed to be closed • Presumption that individuals are driven entirely by the standards of the group with which they identify

  17. Opposing argument • Accepting public expression of religious affiliation can prevent withdrawal into a closed community that becomes radical in reaction to the lack of recognition

  18. Religion = common values? • Religion is presumed to have an all-encompassing hold on believers, but… • Believers prioritize religious values differently than the secular majority • Believers do not reject “modern” values (apart from some rare exceptions) • Identity has many dimensions and draws on a range of values

  19. Democratic and legal rights: Dangers? • By and large, religious expression is lived on modern terms • Selecting or distancing oneself from certain standards • Diversity within each tradition • Personal direction, not a political desire to impose the same standards on all members of society

  20. Religious signs in government employees • Aim: to not exclude common institutions • Do not have to choose between religious affiliation and a job • Presumption of impartiality

  21. Limiting factors • Do not compromise the effectiveness, security and rights of others • These three factors = evaluation of undue constraint on reasonable accommodation

  22. Equality of men and women at risk? • The law prohibits unequal treatment based on sex • Equality of men and women is not necessarily compromised by individual expression of religious affiliation • Religious patriarchy exists; the state must not attempt to step in and take its place • Strengthen awareness of rights

  23. Real equality • Equality of political and legal status for women • Equality of resources to live one’s life • Equality of opportunity (employment, education, justice, health care, housing)

  24. 3. Factors to be considered • Distinguish between the fundamental principles of equality and elements that are incidental • Interconnection of different forms of inequality (economic, stigmatized groups, etc.) • Evaluate the risk of a sense of rejection • Initiatives that do not cause harm to others

  25. Prohibition of the expression of religious affiliation • Done through social exclusion • Form of discrimination, racism • Not all religions have rules on what followers can and cannot eat or wear • Forces individuals to renounce (their faith or their social integration) • Homogeneousness is an unrealistic measure of unity

  26. Targets • Aim for integration rather than uniformity • Remain vigilant in order to prevent discrimination • The need for mechanisms to eliminate discrimination is more pressing where there is diversity • Be aware of the impact of the customs of the majority and of their adverse effects