Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Difference in Europe & USA on the separation of 'Church and State'

Blandine Chelini-Pont

In the United States, two interconnected theories of the public sphere are particularly relevant. In the liberal tradition of democratic theorists the public sphere has been viewed as the space common for all, where citizens can freely discuss and deliberate ideas, commit themselves to voluntary associative forms, and improve and control the various levels of their common life. The second theory locates the public sphere not so much in the legal and material organization of this space but in civil society itself, moved by a continuing deliberative and critical process.

The concept of the public sphere in Europe relies on the old notion of the common good, originally understood to include the responsibility of accounting to God for one's actions, but which now also includes accounting to the citizens of the state for the actions of the State. In this conception, the State is responsible for the public order (safely and health)-a concept with ramifications that justify all kinds of circumstantial and legal limitations in the public sphere.

The different perceptions of the concept of public sphere in the United States and in Europe accordingly translate into different perceptions of the State's place and role within that public sphere. There is a difference in the power given to the State by its citizens, and there is especially a difference in the State's legitimate actions in service of its citizens.

In the European public sphere…Religion was, more than anything else, an issue of law and order. Kings required the conformity of their subjects to the king's religious precepts, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, or Calvinist. This requirement is illustrated by the famous adage, Cujus regio ejus religio, Latin for "whose rule, his religion

The legacy of these former times remains influential, as evidenced in two ways: first, by the frequent and legal occurrence of a specific relationship between the state and religion-with the state granting religious status and limiting the scope of a religion's activities; and second, by the normative tendency to consider religion as a public, charitable, medical, educational, and even spiritual service. Consequently, it seems natural for the State to collaborate with religious leaders as much as possible in order to help citizens in need of such services.

Paradoxically, because of the historical relationship between the state and religion, and the subsequent reaction against it, separation between church and state was reached. In Europe, separation between church and state connotes the State's regulation of the public sphere and religious freedom in the private sphere. Consequently, this separation has resulted in the fading of religion from the European public sphere. This concept of separation, however, has surely led to a more visible secularization of the public sphere, where the State now has a monopoly. To some extent, the secularization of the State-that was gradually or abruptly reached, depending on the nation's history-allowed the citizens to exert their freedom of conscience and to avoid membership in a single or state-authorized religion. However, this secularization led to the visible disappearance of religion from the public sphere. The departure from the fused relationship between religion and the State in Europe led not only to a secularization of the public space but also to a privatization of religion. The fear that religion might once again take on a public role, however painfully reduced this role may be, drives officials and politicians to consider new movements like Islam as a threat to the now-secularized public sphere. 

In comparison, U.S. citizens do not consider the State to be a supervisor that must oversee religion or drive it out of the public sphere to avoid possible manipulation. To the contrary, the State is seen as guaranteeing most scrupulously all forms of religious manifestation. U.S. citizens consider religion in the United States to be foremost a personal freedom. The public sphere is seen as a place where individuals exercise multiple personal freedoms in their capacity as religious citizens, politicians, legislators, or as members of religious groups or institutions. For Europeans, it is surprising that a President, elected by a majority of citizens, could call publicly for the blessing of God, or justify his actions with his faith. In the United States, religion is often present in political debates and in legislative ceremony. Religions enjoy a long associative tradition, a liberal tax policy, ample freedom of worship, and open expression in the public sphere.

Blandine Chelini-Pont, Equipe Droit et Religion du Laboratoire Droit et Mutations Sociales (Jeune Equipe 2425), Responsable du Master Lacit et Droit des cultes, Universite Paul Czanne, Aix-en-Provence, France.

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