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Freedom of Religion or Belief - An International Law Commentary by Bielefeldt, Heiner; Ghanea, Nazila; Wiener, Michael (21st January 2016)

Part 2 Discrimination, 2.2 State Religion

From: Freedom of Religion or Belief: An International Law Commentary

Heiner Bielefeldt, Nazila Ghanea, Michael Wiener

Subject(s):
Religion — Freedom of association — Freedom of expression — Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion — Minorities — Human rights remedies — United Nations (UN)

This chapter analyses different ways of organizing the relationship between State and religious communities. Although official State religions are not forbidden in international human rights laws, they usually give rise to critical questions and concerns, in particular in light of the principle of non-discrimination. Many formally ‘secular’ States also privilege certain religions, often under the auspices of protecting their national identity or a particular cultural heritage, with discriminatory implications for people not following the dominant religions—illustrating that the term ‘secularism’ can carry very different meanings. Under freedom of religion or belief, States should provide an inclusive space for the free unfolding of religious or belief-related diversity for all, free from fear and free from discrimination. A ‘respectful distancing’ of State authority and religious communities—possibly in the name of an ‘inclusive secularism’—seems ultimately necessary in the interest of providing space for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief.

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