The Interconnection between Political and Religious Freedom

The purpose of this text is to discuss the link between political freedom of an Independent State and Religious Freedom. Are the two notions compatible and exist in one Single State at the same time?

First: Religion is the basis for Independence

The birth of all Nations is based on the need of Religious Liberty. It is possible to reinforce this sentence by many examples. The founding of the United States was an alliance of deists to win religious freedom and the disestablishment of state-religion : “The evangelicals wanted disestablishment so they could freely preach the gospel; the rationalists and deists wanted disestablishment because they felt an enlightened government should not punish people for their religious views.  The combination of the two agendas would transform America, helping to make it both intensely religious and religiously free.” (Thomas Kidd, “God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution “).  Since the Independence, America has always been religious and religiously diverse.

Freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits laws establishing a national religion or impeding the free exercise of religion for its citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, extended religious freedom by preventing states from enacting laws that would advance or inhibit any religion.

The modern approach shows that most of the actually debated questions (same sex marriage, abortion, prayer in the classroom, divorce) are deeply connected with religious beliefs.

Most of the modern wars against the powers are in the name of religion: no need to explain the religious aspect the recent Islamic Revolutions or in the conflict between two trends of the Islamic religions Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is in the name of the religion that recent difficulties troubled the World’s peace.

Second: The Independent State wants to suppress Religious Freedom

Once freed, the paradox is that the newly independent State has two options:

– either, the State is a religious one and the religion is deeply linked with the political institutions. It is the case of most modern Islamic states: Islam is not only a religion but also constitutional Law, Civil Law… Every part of the citizens’ everyday life is based on the new religion – hence there is no room for any independent attitude nor for any other religion. Many of the present Islamic states correspond to this situation: if the state religion is Shi’ite religion, it will be impossible for any other religion to exist, even an Islamic one. This ostracism is quite logical: since the Political Power is based on one religious’ belief, it will be impossible to admit any other religion except the State Religion.

– Or, the State is not a religious one and tries to give some independence to the citizens. However, this freedom given to all religions does not last long. One day, or another, the religious leaders are going to resist or to criticize the political leaders; by response, the political power is going to fight against and to try to forbid the free exercise of all religions. It is the present situation of China in which all the religions, and not only the Islamic practitioners, are or will be going to be forbidden. The United States’ International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the office of the Secretary of State to compile a list each year of countries that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” according to the State Department’s January 4, 2018 press release.

A Free State does not allow freedom of religion, except the International conventions.

In reality, the freedom of religion is a power running against the political power; this is the reason why the political power tends to eliminate freedom of religion. In religious states, the freedom of religion is running counter the monopoly, thus the political power wants to eliminate any other religion.

The only way to protect the freedom of religion goes through international conventions.

For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, defines freedom of religion and belief (Article 18).

However, the fact that a country has ratified it does not mean that the freedom of religion is complete.

Even in France, some religions, characterized as “sects” or “cults”, have been prosecuted and condemned mainly because they were characterized as such. This characterization is in itself an effort to crush on the freedom of religion of such minorities. It could be useful to create a “freedom of religion scale” which could identify, state by state, the freedom of religion. China could be noted zero (out of ten) and France five. The only country which might receive a Ten mark would be the United States.

This difficulty to admit a total freedom of religion, even in Western Democratic States, shows the difficulty for the States to admit a rival power. This is why it is a daily fight for certain religions to be freely admitted and exercised. From this fight, may the light be coming: “Jehovah will fight for you and you shall hold your peace” (Ex. 14:14).

Professor of law at University of Paris 1.