A state religion (also called an established religion or official religion) is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. A state with an official religion, while not secular, is not necessarily a theocracy, a country whose rulers have both secular and spiritual authority. State religions are official or government-sanctioned establishments of a religion, but the state does not need be under the control of the religion (as in a theocracy) nor is the state-sanctioned religion necessarily under the control of the state.
Official religions have been known throughout human history in almost all types of cultures, reaching into the Ancient Near East and prehistory. The relation of religious cult and the state was discussed by Varro, under the term of theologia civilis (“civic theology“). The first state-sponsored Christian church was the Armenian Apostolic Church, established in 301 CE. In Christianity, as the term church is typically applied to a Christian place of worship or organisations incorporating such ones, the term state church is associated with Christianity as sanctioned by the government, historically the state church of the Roman Empire in the last centuries of the Empire’s existence, and is sometimes used to denote a specific modern national branch of Christianity. Closely related to state churches are ecclesiae, which are similar but carry a more minor connotation.
In the Middle East, many states with primarily Islamic population have Islam as their state religion, either as the nondenominational Muslim, Shi’a or Sunni variety, though the degree of religious restrictions on the citizen’s everyday life varies by country. Rulers of Saudi Arabia use both secular and religious power, while Iran’s secular presidents are supposed to follow the decisions of religious authorities since the revolution of 1979. Turkey, which also has a primarily Muslim population, became a secular country after Atatürk’s Reforms, although unlike the Russian Revolution of the same time period, it did not result in the adoption of state atheism.
The degree to which an official national religion is imposed upon citizens by the state in contemporary society varies considerably; from high as in Saudi Arabia to minimal or none at all as in Denmark, England, Iceland, and Greece.
The degree and nature of state backing for denomination or creed designated as a state religion can vary. It can range from mere endorsement (with or without financial support) with freedom for other faiths to practice, to prohibiting any competing religious body from operating and to persecuting the followers of other sects. In Europe, competition between Catholic and Protestant denominations for state sponsorship in the 16th century evolved the principle Cuius regio, eius religio (states follow the religion of the ruler) embodied in the text of the treaty that marked the Peace of Augsburg, 1555. In England, Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534, being declared the Supreme Head of the Church of England, the official religion of England continued to be “Catholicism without the Pope” until after his death in 1547, while in Scotland the Church of Scotland opposed the religion of the ruler.
In some cases, an administrative region may sponsor and fund a set of religious denominations; such is the case in Alsace-Moselle in France under its local law, following the pre-1905 French concordatory legal system and patterns in Germany.
In some communist states, notably in North Korea and Cuba, the state sponsors religious organizations, and activities outside those state-sponsored religious organizations are met with various degrees of official disapproval. In these cases, state religions are widely seen as efforts by the state to prevent alternate sources of authority.
There is also a difference between a “state church” and the broader term of “state religion“. A “state church” is a state religion created by a state for use exclusively by that state. An example of a “state religion” that is not also a “state church” is Roman Catholicism in Costa Rica, which was accepted as the state religion in the 1949 Constitution, despite the lack of a national church. In the case of a “state church”, the state has absolute control over the church, but in the case of a “state religion”, the church is ruled by an exterior body; in the case of Catholicism, the Vatican has control over the church. In either case, the official state religion has some influence over the ruling of the state. As of 2012, there are only five state churches left, as most countries that once featured state churches have separated the church from their government.
Further information: Secular state
Disestablishment is the process of repealing a church’s status as an organ of the state. In a state where an established church is in place, those opposed to such a move may be described as antidisestablishmentarians. This word is, however, most usually associated with the debate on the position of the Anglican churches in the British Isles: the Church of Ireland (disestablished in 1871), the Church of England in Wales (disestablished in 1920), and the Church of England itself (which remains established).
Current state religions
While Hinduism is, as of 2015, not established as a state religion in any country, the Republic of Nepal affords some special rights to Hindu practice.
- Nepal The constitution of Nepal makes a special protection for the ancient religion that is Hinduism or ‘Sanatan Dharma’, while not establishing an official state religion. The Constitution states that while Nepal is a secular country, ‘ancient religious practices (Sanatan Dharma) will be protected and promoted.
Governments where Buddhism, either a specific form of it, or Buddhism as a whole, has been established as an official religion:
- Bhutan The Constitution defines Buddhism as the “spiritual heritage of Bhutan” and it also mandates that the Druk Gyalpo (King) should appoint the Je Khenpo and Dratshang Lhentshog (The Commission for Monastic Affairs).
- Cambodia The Constitution declared Buddhism as the official religion of the country. About 98% of the Cambodia’s population is Buddhist.
In some countries, Buddhism is not recognized as a state religion, but holds special status:
- Laos According to the Lao Constitution, Buddhism is given special privilege in the country. The state respects and protects all the lawful activities of Buddhism.
- Myanmar Section 361 of the Constitution states that “The Union recognizes the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union.”
- Sri Lanka The constitution of Sri Lanka states under Chapter II, Article 9, “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e). But the country does not officially have a state religion. It is regarded by the Supreme Court as being a secular country.
- Thailand According to the Thai constitution the country is secular and freedom of religion is guaranteed but some important privileges are also given to Buddhism, since the government supports and protects Buddhism as the majority religion practised by local Thais, in addition to providing financial support for the building Buddhist temples.
Main articles: Christian state, Christianity and politics, Christian democracy, and Christendom
The following states recognize some form of Christianity as their state or official religion (by denomination):
Jurisdictions where Catholicism has been established as a state or official religion:
- Costa Rica article 75 of the constitution of Costa Rica confirms that “The Catholic and Apostolic Religion is the religion of the State, which contributes to its maintenance, without preventing the free exercise in the Republic of other forms of worship that are not opposed to universal morality or good customs.”
- Liechtenstein The constitution of Liechtenstein describes the Catholic Church as the state religion and enjoying “the full protection of the State”. The constitution does however ensure that people of other faiths ‘”shall be entitled to practise their creeds and to hold religious services to the extent consistent with morality and public order”.
- Malta Article 2 of the Constitution of Malta declares that “the religion of Malta is the Catholic and Apostolic Religion”
- Monaco Article 9 of the constitution of Monaco describes the “Catholic, and apostolic religion” as the religion of the state.
- Vatican City is an Elective, Theocratic, or sacerdotal Absolute Monarchy ruled by the Pope, who is also the Vicar of the Catholic Church. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See (Latin: Sancta Sedes) and the location of the Pope’s official residence, referred to as the Apostolic Palace.
Jurisdictions that give various degrees of recognition in their constitutions to Roman Catholicism without establishing it as the state religion:
- Argentina Article 2 of the Constitution explicitly states that the government supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith, but the constitution does not establish a state religion. The former Constitution (modified in 1994) stated that the President of the Republic must be a Roman Catholic.
- East Timor While the Constitution of East Timor enshrines the principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state in Section 45 Comma 1, it also acknowledges “the participation of the Catholic Church in the process of national liberation” in its preamble (although this has no legal value).
- El Salvador Although Article 3 of the El Salvadoran constitution states that “no restrictions shall be established that are based on differences of nationality, race, sex or religion”, Article 26 states that the state recognizes the Catholic Church and gives it legal preference.
- Guatemala The Constitution of Guatemala recognises the juridical personality of the Catholic Church. Other churches, cults, entities, and associations of religious character will obtain the recognition of their juridical personality in accordance with the rules of their institution.
- Italy The Constitution of Italy recognises the Catholic Church and the state as “independent and sovereign, each within its own sphere”.
- Mexico The Constitution of Mexico recognizes Catholicism as “the religion of the majority” of citizens but does not designate it as the official state religion.
- Panama The Constitution of Panama recognizes Catholicism as “the religion of the majority” of citizens but does not designate it as the official state religion.
- Paraguay‘s constitution recognizes the Catholic Church’s role in the nation’s historical and cultural formation.
- Peru The Constitution of Peru recognizes the Catholic Church as an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral formation of Peru and lends it its cooperation.
- Spain The Spanish Constitution of 1978 abolished Catholicism as the official state religion, while recognizing the role it plays in Spanish society.
Main article: Eastern Orthodox Church
- Greece The Church of Greece is recognized by the Greek Constitution as the prevailing religion in Greece. and is the only country in the world where Eastern Orthodoxy is clearly recognized as a state religion. However, this provision does not give exclusivity of worship to the Church of Greece, while all other religions are recognized as equal and may be practised freely.
The jurisdictions below give various degrees of recognition in their constitutions to Eastern Orthodoxy, but without establishing it as the state religion:
- Bulgaria In the Bulgarian Constitution, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is recognized as “the traditional religion” of the Bulgarian people, but the state itself remains secular.
- Cyprus The Constitution of Cyprus states: “The Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus shall continue to have the exclusive right of regulating and administering its own internal affairs and property in accordance with the Holy Canons and its Charter in force for the time being and the Greek Communal Chamber shall not act inconsistently with such right.”
- Finland Both the Finnish Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland are “national churches”.
- Georgia The Georgian Orthodox Church has a constitutional agreement with the state, the constitution recognising “the special role of the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia in the history of Georgia and its independence from the state”.
The following states recognize some form of Protestantism as their state or official religion: None
The Anglican Church of England is the established church in England as well as all three of the Crown dependencies.
- England The Church of England is the established church in England, but not in the United Kingdom as a whole. It is the only established Anglican church worldwide. The Anglican Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Ireland are not established churches and they are independent of the Church of England. The British monarch is the titular Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The 26 most senior bishops in the Church of England are Lords Spiritual and have seats in the House of Lords of the UK Parliament.
- Guernsey The Church of England is the established church in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the leader of the Church of England in the territory is the Dean of Guernsey.
- Isle of Man The Church of England is the established church on the Isle of Man. The Bishop of Sodor and Man is an ex officio member of the Legislative Council of the upper house of the Tynwald.
- Jersey The Church of England is the established church in Jersey, and the leader of the church on the island is the Dean of Jersey, a non-voting member of the States of Jersey.
Main article: Calvinism
- Tuvalu The Church of Tuvalu is the state religion, although in practice this merely entitles it to “the privilege of performing special services on major national events”. The Constitution of Tuvalu guarantees freedom of religion, including the freedom to practice, the freedom to change religion, the right not to receive religious instruction at school or to attend religious ceremonies at school, and the right not to “take an oath or make an affirmation that is contrary to his religion or belief”.
Jurisdictions where a Lutheran church has been established as a state religion include the Nordic countries.
- Denmark Section 4 of the Constitution of Denmark confirms the Church of Denmark as the established church.
- Faroe Islands The Church of the Faroe Islands is the state church of the Faroe Islands, an autonomous administrative division within the Danish Realm.
- Greenland The Church of Denmark is the state church of Greenland, an autonomous administrative division within the Danish Realm.
- Finland The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has a special relationship with the Finnish state, its internal structure being described in a special law, the Church Act. The Church Act can be amended only by a decision of the synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and subsequent ratification by the Parliament of Finland. The Church Act is protected by the Constitution of Finland and the state cannot change the Church Act without changing the constitution. The church has the power to tax its members. The state collects these taxes for the church, for a fee. On the other hand, the church is required to give a burial place for everyone in its graveyards. The President of Finland also decides the themes for intercession days. The church does not consider itself a state church, as the Finnish state does not have the power to influence its internal workings or its theology, although it has a veto in those changes of the internal structure which require changing the Church Act. Neither does the Finnish state accord any precedence to Lutherans or the Lutheran faith in its own acts. The Union of Freethinkers of Finland has criticized the official endorsement of the two churches by the Finnish state, and has campaigned for the separation of church and state.
- Iceland The Constitution of Iceland confirms the Church of Iceland as the state church of Iceland.
- Norway The Constitution of Norway says: “The Norwegian church, an Evangelical-Lutheran church, shall remain the Norwegian National Church and will as such be supported by the State. Detailed provisions as to its system shall be laid down by law. All religious and philosophical communities were to be supported on an equal footing.” and that “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion.”
- Sweden The Constitution of Sweden says:
In respect of documents transferred in accordance with Articles 12 to 16, the Church of Sweden and any part of its organisation shall be equated with a public authority.
It may also be laid down in law that the Government may determine that official documents may be transferred to the Church of Sweden, or any part of its organisation, for safekeeping, without the documents ceasing thereby to be official. This applies to documents received or drawn up no later than 31 December 1999 by:
1. public authorities which no longer exist and which performed tasks relating to the activities of the Church of Sweden; or
2. decision-making assemblies of the Church of Sweden.
In respect of documents transferred in accordance with Articles 12 to 16, the Church of Sweden and any part of its organisation shall be equated with a public authority.— Article 17, Swedish Constitution
Main article: Methodism
- Tonga The Tongan Royal Family has had a close relationship with the Free Wesleyan Church ever since the advent of the Christianity throughout the island kingdom, with many of them as prominent members; in these factors the FWCT can thus be considered a de facto state church. The Constitution states that Sabbath Day is holy and that “no person shall practise his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day”.
- Armenia The Armenian Apostolic Church has a constitutional agreement with the State: “The Republic of Armenia shall recognise the exclusive mission of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church, as a national church, in the spiritual life of the Armenian people, in the development of their national culture and preservation of their national identity.”
- Dominican Republic The constitution of the Dominican Republic specifies that there is no state church and provides for freedom of religion and belief. A concordat with the Vatican designates Catholicism as the official religion and extends special privileges to the Catholic Church not granted to other religious groups. These include the legal recognition of church law, use of public funds to underwrite some church expenses, and complete exoneration from customs duties.
- France The local law in Alsace-Moselle accords official status to four religions in this specific region of France: Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism. The law is a remnant of the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801, which was abrogated in the rest of France by the law of 1905 on the separation of church and state. However, at the time, Alsace-Moselle had been annexed by Germany. The Concordat, therefore, remained in force in these areas, and it was not abrogated when France regained control of the region in 1918. Therefore, the separation of church and state, part of the French concept of Laïcité, does not apply in this region.
- Haiti While Catholicism has not been the state religion since 1987, a 19th-century concordat with the Holy See continues to confer preferential treatment to the Catholic Church, in the form of stipends for clergy and financial support to churches and religious schools. The Catholic Church also retains the right to appoint certain amounts of clergy in Haiti without the government’s consent.
- Hungary The preamble to the Hungarian Constitution of 2011 describes Hungary as “part of Christian Europe” and acknowledges “the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood”, while Article VII provides that “the State shall cooperate with the Churches for community goals.” However, the constitution also guarantees freedom of religion and separation of church and state.
- Portugal Although Church and State are formally separate, the Catholic Church in Portugal still receives certain privileges.
- Samoa In June 2017, Parliament voted to amend the wording of Article 1 of the constitution, thereby making Christianity the state religion. The status of the religion had previously only been mentioned in the preamble, which Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi considered legally inadequate.
- Scotland The Church of Scotland is the national church. The Church of Scotland Act 1921 settled the Church’s total independence from the state in spiritual matters.
- Zambia The preamble to the Zambian Constitution of 1991 declares Zambia to be “a Christian nation”, while also guaranteeing freedom of religion.
Main articles: Political aspects of Islam, Sharia, Caliphate, and Islamism
See also: Islam and Secularism and Islamic state
Many Muslim-majority countries have constitutionally established Islam, or a specific form of it, as a state religion. Proselytism (converting people to another religion) is often illegal in such states.
- Afghanistan Article 2 of the Afghan constitution: “The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.” Officially, Afghanistan has continuously been an Islamic state under various constitutions since at least 1987.
- Algeria Article 2 of the Algerian Constitution of 2016: “Islam shall be the religion of the State.”
- Bangladesh Article 2A of the Constitution of Bangladesh: “The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions.”
- Bahrain Article 2 of the Constitution of Bahrain: “The religion of the State is Islam.”
- Brunei Article 3 of the Constitution of Brunei: “The official religion of Brunei Darussalam shall be the Islamic Religion …”
- Comoros Preamble to the 2001 Constitution of the Comoros: “… to draw from Islam, the religion of the state …”
- Djibouti Article 1 of the Constitution of Djibouti: “Islam is the Religion of the State.”
- Egypt Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution of 2014: “Islam is the religion of the State”.
- Iran Article 12 of the Constitution of Iran: “The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’farî school [in usul al-Dîn and fiqh], and this principle will remain eternally immutable.”
- Iraq Article 2 of the Constitution of Iraq: “Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation …”
- Jordan Article 2 of the Constitution of Jordan: “Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic is its official language.”
- Kuwait Article 2 of the Constitution of Kuwait: “The religion of the State is Islam and Islamic Law shall be a main source of legislation.”
- Libya Article 1 of the Libyan interim Constitutional Declaration: “Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Shari’a).”
- Maldives Article 10 of the Maldives’s Constitution of 2008: “The religion of the State of the Maldives is Islam. Islam shall be the one of the basis of all the laws of the Maldives.”
- Malaysia Article 3 of the Constitution of Malaysia: “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.”
- Mauritania Article 5 of the Constitution of Mauritania: “Islam is the religion of the people and of the State.”
- Morocco Article 3 of the Constitution of Morocco: “Islam is the religion of the State, which guarantees to all the free exercise of beliefs [cultes].”
- Oman Article 2 of the Constitution of Oman: “The religion of the State is Islam and Islamic Sharia is the basis for legislation.”
- Pakistan Article 2 of the Constitution of Pakistan: “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan.”
- Palestine Article 4 of the Basic Law of the State of Palestine: “Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions shall be maintained.”
- Qatar Article 1 of the Constitution of Qatar: “Qatar is an independent sovereign Arab State. Its religion is Islam and Shari’a law shall be a main source of its legislations.”
- Saudi Arabia Article 1 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic State. Its religion is Islam.”
- Sahrawi Republic
- Somalia Article 2 of the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia: “Islam is the religion of the State.”
- Tunisia Article 1 and 6 of the Tunisian Constitution of 2014: “Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state; its religion is Islam (…) The state is the guardian of religion. It guarantees freedom of conscience and belief, the free exercise of religious practices and the neutrality of mosques and places of worship from all partisan instrumentalisation.”
- United Arab Emirates Article 7 of the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates: “Islam shall be the official religion of the Union.”
- Yemen Article 2 of the Constitution of Yemen: “Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic is its official Language.”
Status of religion in Israel
See also: Jewish state
Israel is defined in several of its laws as a “Jewish and democratic state” (medina yehudit ve-demokratit). However, the term “Jewish” is a polyseme that can describe the Jewish people as either an ethnic or a religious group. The debate about the meaning of the term “Jewish” and its legal and social applications is one of the most profound issues with which Israeli society deals. The problem of the status of religion in Israel, even though it is relevant to all religions, usually refers to the status of Judaism in Israeli society. Thus, even though from a constitutional point of view Judaism is not the state religion in Israel, its status nevertheless determines relations between religion and state and the extent to which religion influences the political centre.
The State of Israel supports religious institutions, particularly Orthodox Jewish ones, and recognizes the “religious communities” as carried over from those recognized under the British Mandate—in turn derived from the pre-1917 Ottoman system of millets. These are Jewish and Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Latin [Catholic], Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian-Catholic, Syrian [Catholic], Chaldean [Uniate], Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, and Syrian Orthodox). The fact that the Muslim population was not defined as a religious community does not affect the rights of the Muslim community to practice their faith. At the end of the period covered by the 2009 U.S. International Religious Freedom Report, several of these denominations were pending official government recognition; however, the Government has allowed adherents of not officially recognized groups the freedom to practice. In 1961, legislation gave Muslim Shari’a courts exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status. Three additional religious communities have subsequently been recognized by Israeli law: the Druze (prior under Islamic jurisdiction), the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and the Bahá’í. These groups have their own religious courts as official state courts for personal status matters (see millet system).
The structure and goals of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel are governed by Israeli law, but the law does not say explicitly that it is a state Rabbinate. However, outspoken Israeli secularists such as Shulamit Aloni and Uri Avnery have long maintained that it is that in practice. Non-recognition of other streams of Judaism such as Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism is the cause of some controversy; rabbis belonging to these currents are not recognized as such by state institutions and marriages performed by them are not recognized as valid. As pointed out by Avnery and Aloni, the essential problem is that Israel carries on the top-down Ottoman millet system, under which the government reserves the complete discretion of recognizing some religious groups and not recognizing others. As of 2015 marriage in Israel provides no provision for civil marriage, marriage between people of different religions, marriages by people who do not belong to one of nine recognised religious communities, or same-sex marriages, although there is recognition of marriages performed abroad.
In some countries, there is a political ideology sponsored by the government that may be called political religion.
- North Korea has promulgated Juche as a political alternative to traditional religion. The doctrine advocates a strong nationalist propaganda basis and is fundamentally opposed to Christianity and Buddhism, the two largest religions on the Korean peninsula. Juche theoreticians have, however, incorporated religious ideas into the state ideology. According to government figures, Juche is the largest political religion in North Korea. The public practice of all other religions is overseen and subject to heavy surveillance by the state.
- Indonesia does not declare or designate a state religion. However, the government only recognizes six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. The Constitution of Indonesia guarantees freedom of religion and the practice of other religions and beliefs, including the animistic indigenous ones, is not prohibited by any laws. Indonesians practicing traditional polytheistic and animists as well as Sikhs and Jains are often counted as “Hindu” for government purposes. Atheism, although not prosecuted, is discouraged by the state ideology of Pancasila. In addition, the province of Aceh receives a special status and a higher degree of autonomy, in which it may enact laws (qanuns) based on the Sharia and enforce it, especially to its Muslim residents.
- Lebanon There are 18 officially recognized religious groups in Lebanon, each with its own family law legislation and set of religious courts. Under the terms of an agreement known as the National Pact between the various political and religious leaders of Lebanon, the president of the country must be a Maronite, the Prime Minister must be a Sunni, and the Speaker of Parliament must be a Shia.
- Luxembourg is a secular state, but the Grand Duchy recognises and supports several denominations, including the Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Anglican and some Protestant denominations as well as to Jewish congregations.
- Russia Though a secular state under the constitution, Russia is often said to have Russian Orthodoxy as the de facto national religion, despite other minorities: “The Russian Orthodox Church is de facto privileged religion of the state, claiming the right to decide which other religions or denominations are to be granted the right of registration”.
- Singapore is officially a secular country and does not have a state religion, and has been named in one study as the “most religiously diverse nation in the world”, with no religious group forming a majority. However, the government gives official recognition to ten different religions, namely Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Sikhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and the Baha’i Faith, and Singapore’s penal code explicitly prohibits “wounding religious feelings”. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unification Church are also banned in Singapore, as the government deems them to be a threat to national security.
- Switzerland is officially secular at the federal level but 24 of the 26 cantons support either the Swiss Reformed Church or the Roman Catholic Church.
Former state religions
Egypt and Sumer
See also: History of religion
The concept of state religions was known as long ago as the empires of Egypt and Sumer, when every city state or people had its own god or gods. Many of the early Sumerian rulers were priests of their patron city god. Some of the earliest semi-mythological kings may have passed into the pantheon, like Dumuzid, and some later kings came to be viewed as divine soon after their reigns, like Sargon the Great of Akkad. One of the first rulers to be proclaimed a god during his actual reign was Gudea of Lagash, followed by some later kings of Ur, such as Shulgi. Often, the state religion was integral to the power base of the reigning government, such as in Egypt, where Pharaohs were often thought of as embodiments of the god Horus.
Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the Sassanid dynasty which lasted until 651, when Persia was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate. However, it persisted as the state religion of the independent state of Hyrcania until the 15th century.
The tiny kingdom of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia converted to Judaism around 34 CE.
Many of the Greek city-states also had a god or goddess associated with that city. This would not be its only god or goddess, but the one that received special honors. In ancient Greece, the city of Athens had Athena, Sparta had Ares, Delphi had Apollo and Artemis, Olympia had Zeus, Corinth had Poseidon and Thebes had Demeter.
Roman religion and Christianity
In Rome, the office of Pontifex Maximus came to be reserved for the Emperor, who was often declared a god posthumously, or sometimes during his reign. Failure to worship the Emperor as a god was at times punishable by death, as the Roman government sought to link emperor worship with loyalty to the Empire. Many Christians and Jews were subject to persecution, torture and death in the Roman Empire because it was against their beliefs to worship the Emperor.
In 311, Emperor Galerius, on his deathbed, declared a religious indulgence to Christians throughout the Roman Empire, focusing on the ending of anti-Christian persecution. Constantine I and Licinius, the two Augusti, by the Edict of Milan of 313, enacted a law allowing religious freedom to everyone within the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the Edict of Milan cited that Christians may openly practice their religion unmolested and unrestricted, and provided that properties taken from Christians be returned to them unconditionally. Although the Edict of Milan allowed religious freedom throughout the Empire, it did not abolish nor disestablish the Roman state cult (Roman polytheistic paganism). The Edict of Milan was written in such a way as to implore the blessings of the deity.
Constantine called up the First Council of Nicaea in 325, although he was not a baptised Christian until years later. Despite enjoying considerable popular support, Christianity was still not the official state religion in Rome, although it was in some neighbouring states such as Armenia, Iberia, and Aksum.
Roman Religion (Neoplatonic Hellenism) was restored for a time by the Emperor Julian from 361 to 363. Julian does not appear to have reinstated the persecutions of the earlier Roman emperors.
Catholic Christianity, as opposed to Arianism and other ideologies deemed heretical, was declared to be the state religion of the Roman Empire on 27 February 380 by the decree De fide catolica of Emperor Theodosius I.
Han dynasty Confucianism
In China, the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) advocated Confucianism as the de facto state religion, establishing tests based on Confucian texts as an entrance requirement into government service—although, in fact, the “Confucianism” advocated by the Han emperors may be more properly termed a sort of Confucian Legalism or “State Confucianism“. This sort of Confucianism continued to be regarded by the emperors, with a few notable exceptions, as a form of state religion from this time until the overthrow of the imperial system of government in 1911. Note, however, there is a debate over whether Confucianism (including Neo-Confucianism) is a religion or purely a philosophical system.
Yuan dynasty Buddhism
During the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 CE), Tibetan Buddhism was established as the de facto state religion by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty. The top-level department and government agency known as the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs (Xuanzheng Yuan) was set up in Khanbaliq (modern Beijing) to supervise Buddhist monks throughout the empire. Since Kublai Khan only esteemed the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, other religions became less important. Before the end of the Yuan dynasty, 14 leaders of the Sakya sect had held the post of Imperial Preceptor (Dishi), thereby enjoy special power.
Golden Horde and Ilkhanate
Shamanism and Buddhism were once the dominant religions among the ruling class of the Mongol khanates of Golden Horde and Ilkhanate, the two western khanates of the Mongol Empire. In the early days, the rulers of both khanates increasingly adopted Tibetan Buddhism, similar to the Yuan dynasty at that time. However, the Mongol rulers Ghazan of Ilkhanate and Uzbeg of Golden Horde converted to Islam in 1295 CE because of the Muslim Mongol emir Nawruz and in 1313 CE because of Sufi Bukharan sayyid and sheikh Ibn Abdul Hamid respectively. Their official favoring of Islam as the state religion coincided with a marked attempt to bring the regime closer to the non-Mongol majority of the regions they ruled. In Ilkhanate, Christian and Jewish subjects lost their equal status with Muslims and again had to pay the poll tax; Buddhists had the starker choice of conversion or expulsion. In Golden Horde, Buddhism and Shamanism among the Mongols were proscribed, and by 1315, Uzbeg had successfully Islamicized the Horde, killing Jochid princes and Buddhist lamas who opposed his religious policy and succession of the throne.
- Kingdom of Hawaii From 1862 to 1893 the Church of Hawaii, an Anglican body, was the official state and national church of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
- Netherlands Article 133 of the 1814 Constitution stipulated the Sovereign Prince should be a member of the Reformed Church; this provision was dropped in the 1815 Constitution. The 1815 Constitution also provided for a state salary and pension for the priesthood of established religions at the time (Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism). This settlement, nicknamed de zilveren koorde (the silver cord), was abolished in 1983.
- Norway Paragraph 4 in the Constitution of Norway states that the Sovereign Monarch must be confessing the Lutheran Evangelical Religion. As of 2012 the Constitution of Norway no longer names Lutheranism as the official religion of the state, but article 16 says that “The Church of Norway […] will remain the Established Church of Norway and will as such be supported by the State.” As of 1 January 2017 the Church of Norway is a legal entity independent of and formally and completely legally separated from the state.
- Nepal was the world’s only Hindu state until 2015, when the new constitution declared it a secular state. (Proselyting remains illegal.)
- Japanese Empire see details in the State Shintō article.
Former state churches in British North America
- The colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, New Haven, and New Hampshire were founded by Puritan Calvinist Protestants, and had Congregational established churches.
- The colonies of New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia maintained the Church of England as the established church.
- The Colony of Maryland was founded by a charter granted in 1632 to George Calvert, secretary of state to Charles I, and his son Cecil, both recent converts to Roman Catholicism. Under their leadership, many English Catholic gentry families settled in Maryland. However, the colonial government was officially neutral in religious affairs, granting toleration to all Christian groups and enjoining them to avoid actions which antagonized the others. On several occasions, low-church dissenters led insurrections which temporarily overthrew the Calvert rule. In 1689, when William and Mary came to the English throne, they acceded to demands to revoke the original royal charter. In 1701, the Church of England was proclaimed, and in the course of the 18th century Maryland Catholics were first barred from public office, then disenfranchised, although not all of the laws passed against them (notably laws restricting property rights and imposing penalties for sending children to be educated in foreign Catholic institutions) were enforced, and some Catholics even continued to hold public office.
- When New France was transferred to Great Britain in 1763, the Roman Catholic Church remained under toleration, but Huguenots were allowed entrance where they had formerly been banned from settlement by Parisian authorities.
- When Spanish Florida was ceded to Great Britain in 1763, the British divided Florida into two colonies, East and West Florida, which both continued a policy of toleration for the Catholic residents.
Colonies with no established church
- The Province of Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers, but the colony never had an established church.
- The Province of New Jersey, without official religion, had a significant Quaker lobby, but Calvinists of all types also had a presence.
- Delaware Colony had no established church, but was contested between Catholics and Quakers.
- The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, founded by religious dissenters forced to flee the Massachusetts Bay colony, is widely regarded as the first polity to grant religious freedom to all its citizens, although Catholics were barred intermittently. Baptists, Seekers/Quakers and Jews made this colony their home. The King Charles Charter of 1663 guaranteed “full liberty in religious concernments”.
These areas were disestablished and dissolved, yet their presences were tolerated by the English and later British colonial governments, as Foreign Protestants, whose communities were expected to observe their own ways without causing controversy or conflict for the prevalent colonists. After the Revolution, their ethno-religious backgrounds were chiefly sought as the most compatible non-British Isles immigrants.
- New Netherland was founded by Dutch Reformed Calvinists.
- New Sweden was founded by Church of Sweden Lutherans.
State of Deseret
The State of Deseret was a provisional state of the United States, proposed in 1849, by Mormon settlers in Salt Lake City. The provisional state existed for slightly over two years, but attempts to gain recognition by the United States government floundered for various reasons. The Utah Territory which was then founded was under Mormon control, and repeated attempts to gain statehood met resistance, in part due to concerns that the principle of separation of church and state conflicted with the practice of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints placing their highest value on “following counsel” in virtually all matters relating to their church-centered lives. The state of Utah was eventually admitted to the union on 4 January 1896, after the various issues had been resolved.
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