Neutrality and “Religious Freedom for the Good of All”

Jeremy Patrick is a Lecturer for the University of Southern Queensland School of Law and Justice

There are many laudable statements in “Religious Freedom for the Good of All.”  The document acknowledges the Church must exist in a pluralistic and multicultural society (para. 10), that individual freedom is the birthright of every human being (para. 37), that coercion is not a legitimate means of religious conversion (para. 41), that the existence of “intermediary bodies” (including religious associations) between the individual and the state is crucial for a well-functioning society (para. 52), and that the free exercise of religion should be limited only when the rights of others or the necessities of public order are infringed (para. 79).  These may not be new positions for the Catholic Church since 1965, but they certainly represent real progress in the Church’s understanding of religious freedom across its long (and in the document, carefully-elided) history (see, e.g., para. 27).

The irony is that they are all also quintessential elements of the self-professedly “neutral” secular liberal democratic state that is repeatedly castigated throughout the document. According to the document, the liberal state is (somehow) simultaneously indifferent to religion (and thus responsible for the rise of “religious radicalization”) but also actively hostile to religion (and thus responsible for a “soft totalitarianism”) (para. 4). The heart of the problem, we’re told repeatedly, is the false idol of state neutrality towards religion (para. 5, 62-65, and 86).


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Individualization of Religious Beliefs, Secularization and Religion-State Relations

A growing trend of religious life in contemporary Western societies is the number of religiously unaffiliated people (also known as “nones”). Some of them believe in nothing, but many others shape religious beliefs with their own, individual understanding of God, the world, and their place in it. They may have specific convictions of what their religion requires or can believe in dogmas of different religions simultaneously, practice spiritual meditation, or sacralize cultural phenomena or ideological concepts.

From a philosophical perspective, the individualization of religion challenges a wide-spread understanding of organized religion (where believers worship God in communion) as the main form of spiritual life. From a law and religion perspective, the questions are how the state should deal with such individualized religious beliefs. Should they be protected under the premises of religious freedom? How will individualization affect religion-state relations?


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Secularization Is (Also) Individualization

Paolo Costa is a researcher at the Center for Religious Sciences of Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trento, Italy

What is “secularization”?

The term sounds familiar enough. But can we assume that everybody knows what it is about?

Its field of application is, at least on the face of it, within everyone’s reach. Who does not have an opinion on the fate of religion today? In a range of positions going from the lamentations of those who day-in-day-out complain that “nothing is sacred anymore” to the dismay of those who do not understand how obscurantism and superstition have not yet disappeared from the face of the earth, the opinion niches where people can comfortably curl up are numerous and well known.

At the same time, however, it seems hazardous to presume that the word has been incorporated into everyday language. It is an easily verifiable fact that, if requested, many struggle to explain what exactly “secularization” is, displaying an indecision that does not seem to affect semantically contiguous terms such as secularism or de-Christianization.


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