By Manisha Matthews
Subedited by Lee Wyton
The belief of keeping the church and state separate by removing religionis exerting influence within the legal sphere, in both the creation of legislation and governance. To which, is still a surprisingly modern ideology. These doubts were first cast by a small minority of the populace during the Enlightenment era, establishing itself within the 17th century over an absolute monarchy. It was here that authority to rule was under the ͞divine right of kings͟, leading to the development of various theories of what government should be. A significant turning point in history over the governance of a major power, being that of the United States of America, was seen in the Establishment Clause implemented under the First Amendment on 15th December 1791.
This directly stated that no law shall be made in respect to religion, to which Thomas Jefferson coined in his letter to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1802, a ͞wall of separation between Church and State.͟This begs to question why did they feel it necessary to establish this division? Why is it so important that religion should relinquish control, and withhold its influence when it comes to affairs of the state? If we were to truly imagine our lives governed under Biblical guidance, it would curtail the freedoms of many. Especially those belonging to a minority of groups, such as women, and even those of differing sexualities.
The church would have influence on Medical Law regarding abortions, with the possibility of being made illegal, due to its classification as something unethical under religious context. Not only would this infringe upon woman’s freedoms of choice but also would infringe upon her autonomy, as well as her independence as an individual. Furthermore, law governing civil rights would be affected as homosexuality, something that was already legalised in 1967 after much struggle, would be made illegal again.
Even under a feminist perspective, women would not be left with much of an identity, under the law of religion. With verses in the Bible stating subservience to men entirely, example stated by1 Timothy 2:12, ͞I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet.͟Despite the many positive impacts religion has established, such as instilling morality within us. Historically, it can be seen to have fuelled tensions and possible hatred over those belonging to differing religions, or even those of the same religion but identifying under different sects. This could segregate an entire population and arguably could work against us progressing as a unified society.
Furthermore, a problem that would affect us universally, which is not entirely the fault of religion itself but more to do with how many have interpreted it, is the lives lost through all the religiously motivated warfare dated throughout history. The war in Syria has resulted in 13.5 million Syrians needing humanitarian assistance, with 6 million internally displaced inside Syria. Additionally, over 4.8 million people have been displaced in other countries such as Turkey, being recorded to host 2.7 million refugees according to the United Nations in 2016. On top of that,the United Nations and Arab League Envoy have estimated on 23 April 2016, that 400,000 Syrians had died in the civil war. However, at the heart of this is conflicting factions, such as the Sunnis, Shiites and Alawites, of the same religion, that being Islam, with other terrorist groups within Syria trying to enforce Sharia law.
Moreover, the war between Israel and Gaza in 2014, in which both sides fought for ownership over Palestine, was arguably motivated through religious tensions arising between the Muslims residing in Gaza and the Jewish residing in Israel. This shockingly resulted in the death of 2,205 Palestinians according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This is not just a current issue but one that has been almost ubiquitous. Even when one shifts their focus to historical wars, European history has often brought to light religiously motivated conflicts arising between both Protestants and Catholics. This can be seen through England’s involvement within the Spanish Armada in 1588, in which Spain, then identifiably Catholic, aimed to attack England to overthrow Elizabeth I, which would, in turn, destabilise and weaken Protestantism within Europe. It was cited that 20,000 Spaniards and 100 English soldiers were killed in this battle with over 7,000 English sailors dying mostly from typhus and dysentery during the battle.
It can be said that many innocent lives have been lost when religion and politics are intertwined but it can be seen to work both ways; with a lack of state interference benefiting religion. With society being as diverse as it is, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting in 2011 that 13% of the population was born outside of the United Kingdom, ensuring that there is no favoured religion within a country would result in the promotion of co-existence faiths. The adoption of a secular government would force it into being more of a personal matter, where judgment will not be passed by the state on whatever your choice may be, and you will not be reprimanded for any decision you make, if practice is without causing harm to others.
There must be some semblance of truth with the examples of religiously motivated wars and the segregation between both church and state, promoting peaceful co-existence as many countries, especially in the West, have opted for a more secular society. Countries such as France and Turkey have adopted a more secular society, following in the footsteps of the United States.
French secularity, or as the French call it laïcité, has been put into practice since 1871 and has now currently been formalised under the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and State, which separates religion from interfering with the political sphere. In a similar fashion, Turkey arguably has practiced the same laïcité school of secularism since 1928. However, secularism still is not upheld in all Western nations as the UK and Denmark still retain constitutional recognition of a religious ideology. Interestingly, within the UK, the British Sovereign who also upholds the title of Supreme Governor, cannot belong to the Roman Catholic Community and before the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 was passed, the monarch was not allowed to marry anyone belonging to that set belief.
Moreover, within the House of Lords, the Lords Spiritual, 26 diocesan bishops collectively, are allocated seats. This gives them the power to exert massive influence when voting on laws regarding certain issues such as euthanasia and abortion.
However, efforts within the UK have been made to promote a more secular society with the Equality Act 2010 allowing those of different religions to worship and promote their views quite freely. Overall, it can be said that as we progress further as a society and the levels of diversity increases, more countries could possibly follow this trend and see the many benefits behind adopting a more secular form of governance.