Tag Archives: Secularism

Secularism Under Threat in the United States!


The Trump administration is arguably one of the most far right governments in modern American history. His team are a gallery of far right activists, corporate lobbyists and evangelical Christian politicians. Although the constitution requires the separation of church and state this hasn’t stopped evangelicals of all flavours from trying to impose their religious moral judgements on society at large and for many radical evangelicals Trump is a blessing to this crusade.

His own Vice-President former Governor of Indiana Mike Pence is a staunch opponent of LGBT+ rights and has supported measures aimed at allowing people to discriminate against LGBTs based on their religious beliefs and also supported the idea of allocating state funding to so called ‘gay cure’ therapies. Pence is also a firm anti-abortion campaigner and politician who as governor made it harder for women to get abortions and attempted to defund planned parenthood. He also supports an abstinence based sex education and has previously asserted that condoms don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections. If that isn’t enough he is also a creationist and once said that he hoped scientists would one day embrace creationism/intelligent design as the only true way the world could have come into existence. Given Trump’s lack of experience and general incompetence it is feared that Mike Pence could be the most powerful and influential Vice-President in history certainly the Trump administration’s decision to ban state funding for NGOs that perform abortions in developing countries is something that Pence championed.

Pence isn’t alone in the cabinet however, several other members of the cabinet have hard conservative Christian positions on many issues. His nominee for Attorney-General, who heads the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions is both anti-LGBT and anti-abortion, his pick for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is Seventh Day Adventist and thus a young-earth creationist who believes the Earth was made in six literal days whilst former governor of Texas Rick Perry is Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy and is both anti-LGBT and a believer in intelligent design/creationism.

Betsy DeVos, his newly appointed Education Secretary, could prove disastrous to attempts by secularists to keep religion out of state schools in the US. She has spent her life using her family’s vast wealth to lobby on behalf of private charter schools, often religious ones, and in an speech to Christian activists in 2001 she stated her interest in education reform was to “..help advance God’s Kingdom”. DeVos and her family have donated millions of dollars to groups that teach intelligent design/creationism and it is feared by many she may use her new position to undermine the teaching of real science in schools.

The first attacks on secularism are already underway in the First Amendment Defence Act which is currently working its way through Congress and President Trump has already indicated support for it. The act will prohibit federal government from taking action against persons who act in accordance with the ‘moral conviction’ that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sexual relations should be reserved for such unions. In short it will make it illegal for the government to take action against people who discriminate against others on the basis of their sexual orientation since it is predominantly lesbian and gay people who cannot meet the requirements of being in a traditional heterosexual marriage. This would prevent the government from, for example, taking action against Kim Davis, the Rowen County Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite this being part of her job.

Evangelical Christians in the US have long used religious freedom as a way of justifying their prejudice and bigotry and it is likely that similar measures to the FADA will appear over the coming years to target other groups conservative Christians want to discriminate against, women who have abortions or teachers who want to teach real science and not creationism for example.

There will of course be a fight back against this anti-secular tide however until the mid-term elections in 2018 this fight back will have to take place through the judiciary rather than Congress since the Republicans still control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Instead those looking to stop such violations of secularism will turn to the judiciary who have the power to repeal such acts if they find them unconstitutional and thus illegal. Of course this is not guaranteed and the religious or political alignment of judges will always play a factor in their decision making. Needless to say it will be a harsh four years in the United States for secularists seeking to keep religion out of government.

Victory for Secularism in Norway!

The Church of Norway is, or rather was, the state church of the Kingdom of Norway, much like the Church of England is here. However thanks to decades of campaigning by pressure groups such as the Norwegian Humanist Association (Human-Etisk Forbund) and the general decline in Church attendance and belief, the first step towards a true separation of church and state has been at last taken.

The process of separating church and state in Norway started with an historic vote in Norway’s Parliament the Storting in May 2012 which saw parliamentarians vote overwhelmingly in favour of separating the protestant Lutheran Church of Norway from the state. In effect this meant that the Church was now free to appoint its own bishops and deans whilst the provision for half of government ministers to be members of the state church was ended. Next last year further measures were made amending the Norwegian constitution to make the Church of Norway a completely separate legal entity with Lutheran clergy no longer being counted as state employees and neither the state nor the church having any say over the other.

However though the changes have been seen as a good step towards a truly secular state they have been derided by some Humanists for not going far enough. The Constitution will still specify that the Church of Norway is the “national church” and thus receives state “support”. Furthermore all Norwegian monarchs are still required to profess a Lutheran faith in order to qualify. Kristin Mile, secretary-general of the Norwegian Humanist Association said “As long as the constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church”.

Commentators in Norway don’t think this current constitutional settlement will last long due to the ambiguity of the term “national church” and parliament’s previous commitment to separating church and state.

Much like the Church of England in the UK, the Church of Norway is a rapidly declining institution. Whilst figures suggest 72.9% are members of the Church of Norway, these figures only reflect people who are baptised or confirmed not people who regularly attend Church or believe in god. Other surveys show that barely 2% actually go to church on a regular basis and only 22% say they believe in god. Indeed Norway, like other Scandinavian countries, ranks highly as among the most atheist or irreligious countries in the world.

The Church of England is in a similar situation however unlike Norway we see no moves in parliament to end the archaic merger of church and state here. Indeed our current Prime Minister is an outspoken supporter for the Anglican Church having claimed a “profound” Christian faith. The situation here is far worse than it ever was in Norway as we have clergy imbedded in our legislature. The 26 Lords Spiritual who hold guaranteed places in the House of Lords, our upper chamber, are a damming and archaic relic of medieval politics. The UK is the only western democracy to have clergy guaranteed spots in its legislature and the only other state in Europe that does so is the Vatican City.

The Church of England supports its role in parliament by claiming that it represents a significant proportion of the population however the census shows only 59.5% identify as Christians and the British Social Attitudes survey shows that the Anglican Church only represents 17% of Christians.

Naturally campaigners such as the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society have called for the abolition of the Lords Spiritual as part of wider reform of the House of Lords. We can only hope that in future we have similar if not better success than Norway.