The constitutional relationship between law and religion in the history of ideas: a contemporary European perspectiveThe constitutional relationship between law and religion in the history of ideas: a contemporary European perspective
Faculty of Law
Centre Pieter Gillis
Research group
Government and Law
Publication type
Source (journal)
Global jurist
8(2008):3, p. 4-26
Target language
English (eng)
University of Antwerp
In this article we look at the question of whether the relationships between church and state should be arranged in such a manner that manifestations of religion are only allowed in the private sphere. Or should the state be more tolerant of religion in a more generous manner? In answering this question we first highlight a number of recent developments regarding the relationship between church and state in Belgium. These developments sketch the atmosphere in which this relation exists at present. They seem to indicate a changed attitude of at least the Belgian government towards religion. Next we look at two classic models in Church-State relations: i.e., the one framed by Thomas Hobbes on the one hand and the one initiated by John Locke on the other hand. We round up with an evaluation of these models in light of the present-day situation and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. We conclude that in order to recognise citizens in regard to their full identity, it is more than ever necessary to look for the contribution religions can make towards the norms and values that keep our society alive and in good health. In this respect government has, in our opinion, a role as facilitator, as guarantor of the basic conditions for pluralism, but not as the party that first and foremost exercises control. As soon as government inclines towards the second (the taking of control), the first (guaranteeing religious liberty) is open to a possible threat. A government that, as was indicated above in a number of examples from the contemporary Belgian policy context, seems to involve itself more and more in the domain of religion should therefore be careful about the actions it takes. It is appropriate to exercise circumspection in the domain of the relationship between religion and politics because whoever oppresses or denies the existence of religious identity humiliates the other. This, in turn, gives rise to a lack of respect for and from the other. Such a society harbours an enormous potential for violence.