A secular state is a country where the state is keep separate from religion, and the state does not discriminate or favor persons based on their religious beliefs. Within a secular state, the government does not interfere with religion and its activities, as long as such activities are done under the confines of the law. A secular state is not inspired by religion when formulating laws and policies. The establishment of a secular state is necessary if a country is to have true freedom of religion. Countries can become secular states upon creation (such as the United States), or after undergoing secularization where the religion (the church) is separated from the state (such as France).
Which Countries Are Secular States?
There are a total of 96 secular states in the world. Africa and Europe have the highest number of secular states in the world, with 27 and 33 secular states respectively. There are 20 secular states in Asia, while South America has seven secular states. Oceania and North America have the least number of secular states, with only 4 (Australia, New Zealand, Micronesia, and Fiji) in Oceania and 5 (The United States, Mexico, Cuba, Canada, and Honduras) in North America. However, many secular states exhibit tendencies seen in religious states. For instance, the UK is a recognized secular state, but its constitution requires the head of state to swear to protect the Church of England through taking the Coronation Oath. This oath which was enacted in the late 17th century is characteristic to religious states, and not secular states. Another point of concern is seen in the UK’s House of Lords that features clergymen drawn from the Church of England.
Former Secular Countries
Some countries were initially secular states but later changed their laws, establishing state religions and turning into religious states in reverse progression. There are only two examples of such countries in the world; Iran and Iraq. Iran had established itself as a secular state in 1925 and held that definition until the 1979 Islamic Revolution that resulted in the institution of Islam as the state religion in Iran. Another Middle East country that is a former secular country is Iraq, which became a secular state after gaining independence in 1925. However, the country adopted a new constitution in 2005 which saw the recognition of Islam as the state religion, turning Iraq into a religious state.
There are countries in the world that define themselves as secular states but have instituted policies and laws that are against secularism. Such countries are termed as ambiguous states in the context of secularism. Armenia is a perfect example of an ambiguous country, as its constitution defines it as a secular state but surprisingly also establishes the national church to be the Armenian Apostolic Church. Another example is Norway, whose constitution provides for the separation of religion and the state but requires the King of Norway to be a member of the Church of Norway. Other such countries include Finland, Argentina, Georgia, Romania, El Salvador, Nauru, Israel, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Lebanon, Indonesia, and Malaysia.