Religion and the state

A great nation—and optimistically speaking, any nation—is supposed to represent all its inhabitants, equally and without discrimination. It shouldn’t see a difference between people of different sexual orientations, between people of different races, between the personal beliefs of its citizens. And yet, in many countries—commonly third-world and second-world ones, but unfortunately often also in first-world nations—the government and constitution does discriminate between its citizens and ultimately victimise them in unnecessarily cruel ways.

Same-sex marriage is one struggle on the way to equality for all, as are equal-treatment civil rights, but this time I want to talk about something that’s a little less media-centred: religion and the state.

Let’s assume that the United States was founded on the principle of Christian values (even though it clearly was not). If so, religious outings at the presidential inauguration, constant references to (protestant) religion in speeches and on the US dollar, and a ban on same-sex marriage, but also on abortion and euthanasia, would make sense. A Christian nation needs to adhere to those values marked essentially Christian, does it not? Notwithstanding the difficulty of deciding what exactly is Christian, considering all the denominations and variations.

Now, this is all great, but it brings one big problem to the surface: what if a US citizen is not Christian? Easy solution would be for this person to move to a different country, but it’s a solution that doesn’t solve the problem at hand. A Christian nation is sure to harbour people who do not adhere to Christianity, yet it is still supposed to represent these citizens. When the country’s currency says “In God We Trust,” doesn’t it alienate those who do not trust in God? Again, notwithstanding the vagueness of who’s God this is. When the nation’s legislation refuses to grant equal civil rights to LGBT people just because of religious convictions, doesn’t it make second-rate citizens of those people? Doesn’t it discriminate against them? Does it not create a sexual apartheid—if you will?

When abortion isn’t allowed in a country, or parts of a nation, doesn’t that essentially say to those who do not see anything wrong with abortion, “We don’t give a crap about your ideals and beliefs, so bugger off”?

You might reverse the situation. What if the United States were to allow same-sex marriage across the nation; wouldn’t that alienate the Christians and Muslims who are against it? Well, let’s think about that for a minute. Not allowing same-sex marriage grants heterosexual couples the right to marry and gives them federal benefits, while allowing it grants heterosexual and homosexual couples the right to marry and to profit from these federal benefits. Christian heterosexuals had all the rights before same-sex marriage was allowed, and they’ve still got those after it was allowed (in this hypothetical situation). Where exactly does it alienate anyone? Same-sex marriage doesn’t force Christians to marry same-sex-wise, nor does it take away any of their rights. If they don’t want to anything to do with same-sex marriage, why don’t they just stay away from a same-sex wedding (as if they would be invited in the first place)?

A different situation takes place during a presidential inauguration. While it’s not protocol to take the oath of office with your hand on a Bible, it has become custom to do so. Nor is it necessary to have a priest or pastor speak at the inauguration, but again, it has become somewhat of an unwritten law. All fine and dandy, until you take into account all the people an American president is supposed to represent: people of all spiritual persuasions, even those without. Now, he or she can do two things to solve this; one, invite representatives of every religion or non-religion out there in the nation to speak (which would make the inauguration endless); or, two, to keep it secular as not to isolate anyone. I would go for door number two.

To be honest, I would go for number two in any state-related issue. It is one thing to hold on to (prehistoric) traditions, like “In God We Trust,” but it’s another to alienate and discriminate millions of citizens. Believing that your God should be with you on the most important day of your life is fine, but if you’re mooning large minorities by doing so, perhaps that important day shouldn’t be just about you—perhaps it should be about the nation as a whole. And the last time I checked “nation” was a secular word, not one owned by the church—any church.

Aside: Political parties founded on Christian principles, and civil rights

We’ve kept it pretty broad, until now.

Here in the Netherlands we’ve got political parties that were founded on essentially Christian principles. Heck, two of the three ruling parties1 right now are Christian.2 While their Christian basis nowadays is essentially only ethical3, it’s still a protestant-Christian4 government governing a nation which harbours a lot of atheists, but also Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and others.

Of course, they were democratically chosen to represent the nation, and are as such not to blame for the (slight) misrepresentations, but this is besides the point I want to make. According to our constitution, there’s equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination (article one), but also freedom of religion (article six). When a political party stands for one specific religion and (essentially) admits to governing in the name of that religion, does it not discriminate against those not adhering to said religion, and doesn’t it treat people unequally under such a situation? Furthermore, in a general way, doesn’t it prohibit atheists from exercising their right to freedom of religion, considering that they’re now being held to adhere to Christian values?5

This aside goes nowhere, as I do not know where it leads, but I just wanted to share it in addition to the above. Carry on.


  1. The Netherlands has a working multi-party democracy, in contrast to *cough* the broken one in the United States, which is essentially a two-party system. “Greatest Democracy,” yeah right. []
  2. Largest Dutch party CDA, and one of the smallest, ChristenUnie/ChristianUnion. The other ruling party is PvdA/Labour, founded on social-democratic foundations. []
  3. For one, CDA is not fundamentally opposed to same-sex marriage, nor are they trying to ban abortion or euthanasia (both are legal in the Netherlands, though euthanasia is legal in a special kind of way; long story). Though ChristenUnie has a stronger Christian foundation, it is in no way comparable to the Dutch party SGP, which doesn’t even allow woman (or openly gay people, of course) to be state representatives for the party. []
  4. While the party also stems from a Catholic tradition, this heritage is near to dead nowadays. []
  5. Some theists skilfully say that it’s freedom of and not freedom from, and that as such atheists have no right to this civil right. Well, despite the fact that that’s idiotic (the freedom is extracted from the contents of the article, not its name), there are also a lot of religions without gods: those could in essence also be called atheistic. Checkmate. []

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