A secular country or state is or claims to be officially neutral regarding religion. This means that secular states support neither religion nor irreligion and does not have an official religion.
"Secularism" is defined as the separation of religion from civic affairs and the state. Secularism may also imply anticlericalism, atheism, naturalism, the banishment of religious symbols from the public sphere, and more.
Secular states do not discriminate or favor individuals to groups based on their religious beliefs. Secular governments shall not interfere with religion and its activities, and faith shall not play a role in law and policy-making decisions. If a country wishes to have true freedom of religion, establishing a secular state is crucial.
What Countries are Secular States?
State secularism is a political term that means separation of church and state. This can be a movement consisting of removing ties between government and a state religion, replacing laws based on scripture, and eliminating religious discrimination.
Some countries claim to be secular but have non-secular tendencies such as references to religion in national anthems or flags.
Secular states can be any form of government, from democracy to absolute monarchies. In studies of religion, modern democracies are generally recognized as secular due to freedom of religion principles and the lack of authority of religious leaders in political decisions. It is believed that most societies become increasingly secular due to development and progress, not through a dedicated movement for secularism.
An example of a non-secular state is Saudi Arabia, which is officially a Muslim country. Most Saudis are Sunni, and a Shia minority accounts for about 10-15% of the population. The legal system is based on Sharia, Islamic law, derived from the Quran and the Islamic prophet Muhammad's traditions.
The United States is often considered to be "constitutionally secular." The U.S. Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Additionally, keeping with the lack of an established state religion, Article Six of the U.S. Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The extent of separation between the U.S. government and religion continues to be debated. While the U.S. is a self-described secular state, there are still references to religion in the pledge of allegiance.
France, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey are all considered constitutionally secular, although their secularism varies. For example, secularism in India includes state involvement in religions, while secularism in France does not.
France has a long history of secularization rooted in the French Revolution. While secularism is a core concept in Article 1 of the French Constitution, stating that France is a secular state, it did not prevent the state from involving the church in government. Since 1905, several policies were implemented to achieve secularism or laïcité in French.