Report on State-religion relationships and their impact on freedom of religion or belief
28 February 2020
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
To the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council on 2 March 2018
In the report, the Special Rapporteur analyses the relationships between State and religion and their impact on freedom of religion or belief.
Although international law does not prescribe a particular type of relationship between State and religion, there are at least three broad types of relationships are discernible and provide a useful analytical basis to discuss the challenges that States face in promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief. These three types of relationships are: (a) States with official or favoured religions; (b) States with no identification towards a religion; and (c) States that pursue policies to heavily restrict the role of religion.
The Special Rapporteur reiterated commitment IV of the “Faith for Rights” framework, which warns against the use of the notion of “State religion” to discriminate against any individual or group as well as against the use of “doctrinal secularism”, which risks reducing the space for religious or belief pluralism in practice. He stresses that States must satisfy a range of obligations, including to adopt measures that guarantee structural equality and to fully realize freedom of religion or belief.
In the light of these obligations, the Special Rapporteur echoes the importance of adopting a model for the relationship between State and religion that is in harmony with the concept of “respectful distancing” — i.e. political and legal, but not social, disentanglement from religion — which rests on a “deep grounding of secularity based on human rights”. He stresses the obligation of States to act as impartial guarantor of freedom of religion or belief to all regardless of the relationships between State and religion or belief.