Religion and Public Life: a Statement

  1. The relationship between religion and public life is a matter of the utmost importance because of the ultimate matters with which religion is concerned and the power they have over human passions and ideals.
  2. The exclusion of religion from public life or from influence in public policy is not an approach that is neutral in matters of religion as it adopts one particular approach that is hostile towards religious involvement in public life and is not uniquely reasonable or rational.
  3. There is no wholly neutral approach to the relationship between religion and public life because public life, including its religious dimension, is properly characterised by the particular features of the people whose public it is.
  4. Natural theology (being theology grounded in the general revelation to reason, rather than special or historical revelation to particular people at particular times, also simply called philosophy) provides the rational underpinning for the public role of religion in general, setting out the rational basis for giving due attention to the things transcendent and divine and their contribution to the public good.
  5. Such a rational framework provides for laws and practices to be grounded in generally accessible ideas of God and his purposes, such as his ordaining of civil authority, his design for marriage and family, and his instituting of natural rights and the moral law grounded in the creation of humankind in his own image.
  6. The rational framework for public religion underpins the legitimacy of the practices of public oaths, public prayer, public worship, and public religious education. It also permits the public celebration of religious festivals such as Christmas and Easter, and the public erection of religious monuments and memorials.
  7. The rational framework commends, in the interests of social unity and cohesion and philosophical integrity, that public religion in a state be largely confined to one principal form of religion, be it one form of Christianity, or Christianity in general, or Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, or a traditional form of religion such as Hinduism or Shintoism.
  8. The claims of religion over public life are limited by the rights of conscience, which underpin basic human freedoms, including freedom of religion.
  9. The rights of conscience and religious freedom arise from respect for the sanctity of the rational conscience within the moral law. This respect is especially present in Christianity because of the central role of personal faith in salvation.
  10. The rights of conscience and religious freedom remove from the scope of secular law the requirement of the moral law to worship God, leaving that most weighty of matters to the individual conscience.
  11. The rights of conscience do not remove from the scope of secular law the remainder of the moral law, including prohibitions on killing, deceit, theft and sexual impropriety, which remains enforceable for the public good.
  12. The rights of conscience and religious freedom rule out also the direct legislation of the provisions of sacred scripture, or of the revelations to mystics or oracles, absent any justification from the rational moral law, since such provisions lack a generally accessible rational basis compatible with respect for the rational conscience.
  13. The rights of conscience and religious freedom mandate a general permission for freedom of worship, and for the free operation of religious institutions and organisations within civil society, within the general framework of the public good.
  14. The rights of conscience and religious freedom mandate also the provision of reasonable accommodation for religious belief and manifestation throughout society, within both religious and secular institutions, in receipt of public funds or otherwise, and including well-targeted legal and regulatory exemptions, so as not to burden unduly the consciences of religious adherents.
  15. The rights of conscience and religious freedom impose a general ban on discrimination on the grounds of religious adherence, save where that discrimination is necessary to secure religious freedom itself or other elements of the public good.

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