After the fundamental changes in the political sphere of the Arab world in 2011, the present paper focuses on the relations between Religion, State and Democracy. These three fundamental elements for a peaceful collaboration of religions and states are examined under a theological perspective. Many scholars pointed out that one of the essential characteristics of a democratic governing authority is the separation between religion and state. The present paper provides a thorough investigation of the strengths and limitation of such action and the impact and the influence that such action might have on religious groups based on the present Church-State relational models, which exist in Europe. Thus, this paper aims to give a thorough account of the importance of coexistence of those three factors. In addition, it is argued that further separation of religion and state is not necessarily associated with higher levels of democracy. The arrangements in regards to religion-state democratic relations are discussed in order to stress out the importance of religion in the political scene, while maintaining a high quality of democratic rights and freedoms.

The relationships between religions and states has been on of the most controversial subjects in history and still remains one of the significant factors, which generates conflicts within our societies. I would like therefore to begin my paper making a reference to the role of religions communities within the European societies. The two thousand years of history of the European family illustrates that Europe is a vital and developing entity with different identities and diverse economic, political, military and cultural co-operational strategies. Furthermore, Europe is in the first place an extended community of different countries, which share fundamental values of freedom, solidarity and respect for the other. In addition as Professor Bekemans (2008) states, Christianity has undoubtedly shaped the European identity, destiny and history. Therefore, European Christian populations similarly to all the European citizens have the responsibility to actively participate in the actual process of European integration and in the reinforcement of the role of the European Union towards the rapid globalization (Bekemans, 2008).

To find the roots of Christian identity of Europe, someone should search back to the Byzantine period. In 313 AD the long period of prosecutions against Christians has terminated with the Edict of Milan, a significant document, which brought Church-State relations to a new era promulgating full legal status to the Christian Church. The significant factor though, was that the Edict of Milan did not simply formalize Christianity but introduced the principle of religious toleration in the Roman Byzantine Empire (Cross and Livingstone, 2005, p. 1092). In addition, this act signified the democratic principles, which were transpired within the Empire in relation to non-Christian religions, regardless the strong relation between the State and the Church, which existed during that period. The principles and the rituals of the Christian faith were the significant elements, which characterised and influenced the function of the Byzantine Empire; some of them can be met in present day. Many decisions of the Byzantine Christian Church councils have been adopted as State laws (Stavrides, 1991, pp. 23-24). These influences were significant due to the fact that assisted the civil state of the Byzantine Empire in its organization and facilitated to the development of culture, religion, legislation, architecture, art and intellectual life of the Byzantine Empire (Ware, 1993, pp.12-17).

The present status of the relations between the Church and the State varies in Europe. There is a strong relation on one hand between the State and the Church in some countries, where the Church is officially recognised and protected by law and on the other hand there is a hostile attitude adopted by the State towards Church. But before I illustrate the account of the present European Church-State relations and how it can be represented by different models, I would like to quote Stark and Bainbridge (1987) definition of religion:

‘Religion is any shared set of beliefs, activities and institutions premised upon a faith of supernatural forces’.

Going back to the Church and State relational models, the first model within the European societies is the established Church, where the civil state recognises one religion and one Church as official and national; consequently, the Church is an active part of the State. In other words, the State by law is getting involved into Church affairs while the Church undertakes certain State roles and functions. This model of Church-State relation applies in the United Kingdom, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Greece and Cyprus. An important example of this model is the United Kingdom, where two Churches are officially established and recognised; the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. To be more precise, the leaders of the Church of England serve ex officio in the House of Lords. Moreover, the King or the Queen formally appoints the Bishops of the Church of England upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister based on the Church approved list of candidates. However, while in the United Kingdom and in other European countries the Church is officially established, in reality the constitutional character of the Church has weakened over the years. Nevertheless, the presence and the pastoral contribution of religious representatives within the British civil sector are highly active, where diverse religious representatives serve as Chaplains at the British Army, the National Health System and at various British educational institutions. The established Church of England has greatly been replaced with an Ecumenical dimension of religion in the public order such as education or official ceremonies. In contradiction, there are European States, like France, Netherlands, Russia, Albania, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Wales and some Swiss territories, where the State promotes the absolute separation with the state and the Church. Based on that model, the state declares itself secular or neutral (Neuberger, 2002).

Another important model in Europe is the present State of the Vatican City, which was established because of the opposition of the Papal State to the unification of Italy. The Vatican Church has the absolute responsibility for both State and Church functions (Neuberger, 2002).. Similarly to the Vatican City, in Greece the Athonite monastic community of Mount Athos has an independent administration and legislation, recognised by the Greek law.  

A hostile attitude of the State towards religion has been met until recently in Holland. The 1983 constitutional revision of Holland introduced the principle of respect of religion and faith, replacing the 1848 constitution, which among other things stated that religious processions were, prohibited (Neuberger, 2002).

A different type of model regarding Church and State relations, common in Europe is the recognised community model, which can be witnessed in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Luxemburg, and at some Swiss cantons, where there is not an official State religion or Church recognised. All the recognised legal religious communities are equal before the law. This model differentiates from the established Church model in terms of the State interference and also differs from the secular or neutral model. Based on the recognised community model, which is also known as ‘mutual independence without separation’model, there is a co-operation at a local level between the State and the religious communities (Neuberger, 2002).

Finally, the endorsed Church State is another model, where former Established Church States are keen to adopt. Spain, Italy, Armenia Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, while they proclaim neutrality and separation regarding Church-State relations, in reality they belong to the endorsed Church model. This model follows the middle path in terms of Church-State relation between the established Church and the recognised community models. This model however, gives slightly a preference to the dominant Church or religion (Neuberger, 2002).

These different models of Church-State relationship across Europe clearly identify the diverse approach towards religions that every single State follows, which actually accommodates the needs and the tradition of each European nation. It is important therefore to mention that Christianity was indeed a significant element, which attributed to the political and socio-cultural development of the European entity and still upholds a significant place among European countries (Bekemans, 2008). Article 5 of UNESCO declaration on the role of religion(s) in the promotion of a culture of peaceclearly gives the role of religion in our societies:

‘For some cultures, religion is a way of life, permeating every Human activity; for others it represents the highest aspirations of human existence. In still others, religions are institutions that claim to carry a message of salvation’

Many scholars argue that one of the essential characteristics of a democratic regime is the separation of Church and State. Stepan (2001) points out that the elected governors of a democratic institution require sufficient autonomy in order to make policy that is within the bounds of the constitution and which cannot be contested or overruled by non-elected religious leaders or institutions. Nevertheless, there is confusion in this statement as the separation between Church and State and the fact that the function of a civil State might be affected by religious leaders is completely different. All religious communities and groups even if a particular religion is the dominant religion of a specific State or if it is just a religious minority, should enjoy the legal protection of the State. Article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights states that:

 ‘…everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community, with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’

At this point, I would like to make a reference to the main teaching principles of Christianity, which primarily are common in all religions worldwide. The unconditional love to our neighbour, the respect of human life, the dignity of human existence, solidarity and philanthropy are religious teachings and elements, which undoubtedly do not create any tensions in the co-existence of Democracy and religions as Aristotle proclaimed, as now Democracy can take many forms, and religion; indeed does not bring any obstacles to the autonomy of the elected governors of a democratic State. Another characteristic element regarding the equality of each individual lies in the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Galatians, who proclaims that:

‘…there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one’ (Gal. 3:28).  

In order to give a significant example of a mutual co-existence and co-operation between a religious community and a democratic State, I would like to make a reference to an event that took place few weeks ago in Greece –my mother land- which signifies the relations between State, religion and Democracy as they manifest themselves in one of the European countries. Prior to that, let me to give you a brief account of the present political and religious circumstances in Greece. The regime of the Greek State is the Presidential Parliamentary Democracy. A developed democratic political system originated from the Greek word Δημοκρατία (Demokratia), which literally refers to a governmental system, consisted of the whole population of a State, typically through elected representatives (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2005, p. 462). It is important to mention that the term Democracy, initially appeared during the 5th century BC, in the ancient political and philosophical thought of Athens (Dunn, 1994). While there is no universal accepted definition of democracy, equality and freedom have both been identified as important values of a democratic regime since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all eligible citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. The Greek constitution, even prior to its principal articles about the political regime of Greece makes a reference to the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity; a point which declares the strong relation between the Greek State and the Christian Church. Furthermore, Article 3 of the Greek constitution promulgates that dominant religion in Greece is the religion of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. In other words, the Greek Orthodox Christian religion is officially recognised and protected by the Greek constitution, which affirms the legal institutional entity of the Greek Orthodox Church. In addition, Article 13 signifies the freedom of religious conscience, which characterized as a privileged human right. In terms of the exercise of worship, Article 13 states that every known religion is free and its functions are protected by the Law. However, Article 13 concludes with the statement that the exercise of worship shall not offend the public order and the moral ethics. Finally, it is important to mention that Greece accommodates within its borders an official recognised Muslim minority based in Western Trace as well as other Muslim populations located at major Greek urban centres and the islands of the Aegean Sea. Based on the Greek constitution, it is clear that Muslim and Christian Orthodox populations as well as the members of other known religions - there is a lack of clarification regarding the term ‘known religions’ - may exercise freely their religion without however offending the public order and the moral ethics.

Having now in mind the general aspects of the political and religious situation in Greece in relation to the democratic principles of the country, I would like to give you a description of the event, which I mentioned earlier in my paper. On 16thNovember 2012, the Procurator magistrate of Athens raised indictment accusations for religious vituperation and continuous malicious blasphemy to the contributors and the actors of the play ‘Corpus Christy’, which was based on the lawsuit of Metropolitan of Piraeus Seraphim Mentzelopoulos dated 12th October 2012. Metropolitan Seraphim claimed that Christian religion was reviled because of that play. It is important to mention that ‘Corpus Christy’depicts Jesus and the Apostles having a homosexual way of living within a modern society and was initially staged at the United States in 1998. This play has been characterised by the Catholic Church as blasphemy and sacrilege. The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church on the other hand, after the arrangement of the premier of that play, made a formal written announcement on 7th June 2012 in relation to ‘Corpus Christy’, identifying the blasphemous content of the play, expressing its great regret about the morbid imagination of the authors. Finally, after protests by clergymen and the faithful outside the theatre as well as the Procurator’s intervention, the premiere in Athens was cancelled. The day after the cancellation of the premiere of ‘Corpus Christ’ the wide circulation Athenian newspaper ‘To Vima’ posted an article on 16th November 2012, which characterized the procurator’s decision as a medieval prosecution because it placed restrictions to the liberty of thought of the contributors of ‘Corpus Christy’ . The principles of Democracy undoubtedly promote and support the liberty of thought of each individual through different ways such as the involvement to the politics and the arts. Nowadays however, within a democratic society this liberty of thoughts has been restrained when these thoughts are expressed to the public. Freedom, which is applicable to every individual, is limited in terms of the liberty limits of another individual. In other words, at the specific case of ‘Corpus Christy’ the liberty of thought, which was expressed through that play violated the moral and the ethical principles of other individuals; particularly the members of the Greek Orthodox Church. This is the characteristic point, where a democratic State should adopt one of the religion-State or Church-State models, which recognises officially religious communities in order to defend and protect the rights of all the democratic citizens.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight that it is not only Christianity the absolute significant element, which influenced the development of the European identity. The other non-Christian populations originated from Asia, Africa and the Arab world because of many different factors, live alongside Europe and have influenced and will definitely play a significant role to the development of the European identity. In order to protect the religious rights as well as religious toleration of all European communities, the Church-State model, which prevails in Greece and protects every religion by law in combination with the German ‘mutual independence without separation’model, where there is not a recognised official religion or Church but there are local recognised religious communities all equal before the law, is the appropriate I believe religion-State relational model, which contains and protects the diversity of each individual. This is the type of model that both religious and State representatives should take into consideration when an issue of re-negotiation of the relation between religions and State arises. Democratic regimes could not be threatened through the active presence of religions in our societies, which should be protected by law. On the other hand the fact that religions might have a more discrete role in relation to politics’ involvement could not denature the authenticity, the principles and the trust of the faithful of each religious community.   

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