725.2 Religious symbols and state secularization: A discussion in the context of public liberties

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 12:45 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Fernando Emmanuel ARLETTAZ , Faculty of Law, University of Zaragoza, Zaragoza , Spain
In the last years, strong debates about religious symbols in public space have been taking place in democratic states. The legitimacy of those symbols, in the light of constitutional principles, has been evaluated by courts. The diversity of jurisdictional solutions shows how wide the variations in the relation between religion and the state may be, and points at the problem of the compatibility of those religious expressions with individuals’ religious freedom.

Besides its juridical dimension, that case-law is related to a broader process of state secularization. Indeed, modern secularization trends have affected individual behaviour and social practices, and have been reflected in the public institutions through the principle of separation between churches and state. However, this process has not been homogeneous, and has produced different models of separation that have resulted not only from the specific orientation of societal secularization in a particular geographical context, but also from deliberate political projects which intended to shape public institutions. 

The persistence of religious symbols in public space expresses the maintenance of a particular link between the state and some religious beliefs. This shows, on the one hand, that secularization may be an unachieved and gradual process. On the other hand, it means that the translation from societal to state secularization is not automatic: it requires a permanent negotiation that must take into account the activity and the pressure of religious actors in a democratic system.