Constitutionalism and Religion
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Constitutionalism and Religion

Francois Venter

This topical book examines how the goals of constitutionalism – good and fair government – are addressed at a time when the multi-religious composition of countries’ populations has never before been so pronounced.
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Chapter 4: Religion in constitutions

Francois Venter


It is remarkable that protective mention of religion is made in one or another form in the overwhelming majority of contemporary constitutions – be they constitutions of constitutional states or of states with dubious credentials in terms of their standards of constitutionalism. At the end of an authoritative review of eight models of the relations of states to religion, the models being the atheist state, assertive secularism, separation as state neutrality towards religion, weak religious establishment, formal separation with the de facto pre-eminence of one denomination, separation alongside multicultural accommodation, religious jurisdictional enclaves and strong establishment, Ran Hirschl concludes as follows: Unlike the conventional image of a ‘clash of civilizations' or the ‘west' and the ‘rest', there is actually a strong echo of religion in each and all of these models. In fact, all constitutions, every single one of them – from France to Iran and anywhere in between – address the issue of religion head on. Some constitutions despise it, others embrace or even defer to it, and yet others are agnostic but are willing to accommodate certain aspects of it. But not a single constitution abstains, overlooks or remains otherwise silent with respect to religion. With the exception of the concrete organizing principles and prerogatives of the polity's governing institutions, the only substantive domain addressed by all modern constitutions is religion.

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