Human Rights

Featured Blog: How does religion affect the modern state?

Photo courtesy of barnyz via Flickr
Written by Rihanna Patel

A secular state entails a state that is officially neutral in matters of religion. I am going to look at how states are truly affected by religion and if this a popular phenomenon of if states embracing the concept of secularism.

The U.S. claims to be a secular nation, with the citizens being able to freely make decisions on religion and the idea that government should not be too involved in the Constitution’s First Amendment. But as this idea is fully entrenched, does it mean it that it stops people in government discussing their stance on religion? Not exactly.

There are many discussions in government when it comes to religion. The debate on prayer in public schools is one of the more dominant discussions. It is illegal but happens in many school districts across the country. And when it is discussed in school, many pupils get harassed for arguing against it.

But this is just the beginning. If religion had zero impact on government choices, then the legalization of same-sex marriage shouldn’t have been the struggle it was. Moreover, the issue of some pharmacies refusing to sell contraception to women because of religious beliefs is something that is still happening. So as much as the U.S. claims to be a secular state, religion still has some impact on decisions.

South America is a huge continent with a plethora of different views, religions and systems, but what we can see emerging in modern day society is the creation of alliances between Catholics, Secularists and Pentecostals trying to solve the debates with which countries are struggling.

In South America, only a small amount of the population does not practice any religion. South America was originally built on a foundation of bringing natives to the Spanish Catholic Church. In modern South America, Uruguay emerges as the most secular country: 40 percent of its citizens have no religious affiliation. Gay marriage is slowly becoming the norm in some states, the most recent being Argentina in 2010. However, abortion rights in South America are more of a complex issue; countries like Chile still hold a strong conservative ideal with strict abortion laws.

Many largely populated East Asian countries have based their state on religion. Pakistan based its state on Islam, and the country’s laws are in reference to the Quran. But today, Pakistan is dealing with this issue on a larger scale; the disagreement between whether to pursue secularism has been pushed to the forefront of the state’s affairs.

India considers itself a secular state like France in that it supports all religions equally, but many have discussed how its constitution actually has some embedded religious views. But there are numerous examples where Hindu culture is combined with Indian culture. The ban on cow slaughter in parts of India deprived many butchers of their livelihood. These beliefs may be sacred to some but not to all of those living in India, like Christians or Muslims.

The UK is a deeply secular state, but the Church of England has some privileges, like unelected bishops in the House of Lords being able to vote on legislation. Also, religious schools are allowed to discriminate in selection and recruitment. Despite this, Great Britain is moving toward a more moderate, inclusive secularism. It is more of a secular society than a secular state in itself.

So many countries truly believe they are secular states or want to move toward being more secular. But many are still closely linked with religion more than they realize. Religion is intrinsic with the state, as so many countries were built on religion it is hard to remove it many years later. Religion is going to be a continuous battle in many aspects of the state. But what is clear is that all states are affected differently.

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Rihanna Patel

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