Before studying how the 1981 U.N. Declaration can be used to write a community report, a person must understand the national constitution of their own country in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief and how it impacts the laws in their community. Existing constitutional systems, or legal frameworks if a country has no constitution, always include principles on religion or belief. These principles vary widely depending on the traditions, values and ways of life of a country. Constitutional scholars normally define these principles in three broad categories; (1) Theocracy, (2) State Church, (3) Separation of Church & State. What follows is a description of these categories with examples under each category.

1. Theocracy: The word derives from the Greek word theos, “God” or theocratic “the rule of God.” A theocracy is a government in which divine commandments are civil laws, and God is regarded as the sovereign power. Examples include Judaism in its early stages, Florence in the Middle Ages under Savonarola, Geneva under John Calvin, and the early Massachusetts Bay Colony in America under the Puritans. # Some States in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a coalition of fifty five States where Islam is the majority religion, declare Shari’a Law as the basis of the country’s legal system.

  • Qatar. Article 1 of its constitution declares it an independent sovereign Arab state and a member of the Union of Arab Emirates. Its religion is Islam, and the Islamic Shari’a Law shall be the fundamental source of its legislation.

  • Yemen. In Article 2: Islam is the religion of the State, and Arabic is its official language. Article 3: The Islamic Shari’a is the source of all laws.

  • Saudi Arabia. The State does not have a written constitution but the source of many of its laws is Shari’a Law, a legal code often called a way of life.

  • Japan. Prior to World War II the Emperor of Japan was considered divine, a deity or God. While Japan did not have a constitution that would qualify it as a theocracy at the time, it had elements of a theocratic/monarchy. In 1947 it adopted a constitution. Article 20: Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.

2. State Church: A church is a Christian place of worship. It is used in various ways by different branches or denominations of Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. A comparable and more inclusive term today would be “State Religion or Belief.” The term refers to countries where there is a declared religion as the official religion of the State, with certain rights and privileges. It is usually associated with a monarch as its head. In 1534 the English Parliament named the King head of the State Church of England.

  • Norway. Section 2 of its 1814 constitution states: All inhabitants of the Kingdom shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. Section 12 states: The King himself chooses a council of citizens. More than half the number of the members of the Council of State shall profess the official religion of the State as shall the King.

  • Brunei. Section 2: The religion or Brunei Darussalam shall be the Muslim religion according to the Shafeite sect of that religion. Section 4: No person shall be appointed Prime Minister unless he is a member of the Shafeite sect of the Muslim religion.

  • Nepal. Article 4 of the constitution of 1990: Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, Hindu and Constitutional Monarchial Kingdom. Article 27: The King shall be a descendent of Great King Prithvi Narayan Shah and adherent of Aryan Culture and Hindu religion.
  • Malta. Article 2 of its constitution states: The religion or Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion. Religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith shall be provided in all State schools as part of compulsory education.

  • Paraguay. Article 6: The Roman Catholic Apostolic religion is the state religion, without prejudice to religious freedom, which is guaranteed in accordance with the provisions of this constitution. Official relations with the Holy See shall be governed by concordats and other bilateral agreements.

3. Separation of Church & State. There are governments with constitutional principles explicitly proclaiming independence of the State in respect to religion. The U.N. approach is more inclusive, protecting all religious and non-religious beliefs. The U.N. position could be called Separation of Belief and State. Several nations, after decades of colonial rule, have adopted new constitutions with the more inclusive language of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • Senegal. Article 19 provides: The State guarantees that everyone shall have freedom of conscience, shall be free to teach and practice the religion of his choice. Religions have the right to develop with no interference from the State.

  • Zaire. Article 1 of its 1981 constitution it states: The Republic of Zaire is a single, democratic, social and secular state. Article 17: In the Republic there shall be no State religion.

  • Cameroon. The Preamble to its 1972 constitution it states: The State is secular. The neutrality and independence of the State in respect to all religions is guaranteed.

  • France. Article 2 of the 1958 constitution states: France is a Republic, indivisible, secular, democratic and social. It shall respect all beliefs.

  • United States of America. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances

  • Turkey. Turkey is an Islamic country (99% Muslim) with close secular administrative control over religion. In 1923, it was a response to the Ottoman Empire, who had ruled Turkey for hundreds of years with their own version of government by Islamic or Shari’a Law, allowing provisions for minority religious with their own courts under what was know as the Millet system. Article 136 of the constitution states: The Department of Religious Affairs, which is within the general administration, shall exercise its duties prescribed in its particular law, in accordance with principles of secularism. Article 24 states: Education and instruction in religion and ethics shall be conducted under State supervision and control. The Directorate of Religious Affairs is attached to the office of the Prime Minister. In 1995, the Directorate’s 90,000 personnel are civil servants. They manage 68,000 Mosques, organize pilgrmage (hajj) affairs and provide religious education through 56,000 Qur’anic courses.

  • India. The majority religion of India is Hindu. In 1947 the newly established constitution, after British colonial rule, established a secular government that guaranteed the right to religious minorities to establish and administer their own education institutions. It stipulated that no State funded educational institution shall provide religious instruction in an effort to provide a secular framework for on the most diversified religious countries of the world.

4. United Nations Approach

The U.N. approach to human rights and freedom of religion or belief, while not agnostic, may be described as an international legal application of this principle. The U.N. takes no position on the existence of God or the ultimate meaning of life. Freedom of conscience, to believe or not to believe, as one so chooses, is the inclusive all embracing principle guiding their approach to human rights. The U.N. is committed to the inherent dignity, equal and inalienable rights of all member of the human family, which includes protection for the rights of all religious and non-religious beliefs.

T.H. Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his fierce defense of Darwin’s Origin of Species, coined the term agnostic in 1859, in response to repeated questions as to whether he believed in God or not. In an article years later, he explained the term this way, “agnostics have no creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle, that is the axiom that every man and woman should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in them, it is the fundamental axiom of modern science--a mind always open to conviction.” Such reasoned faith may incorporate the revealed truth of a supernatural deity, just as easily as the reasoned faith of a materialist.

The word secular, in the context of constitutional systems relating to religion or belief such as theocracy, state church, separation of church, mosque, synagogue, temple, assembly and state, must be inclusive and in principle agnostic in its approach, respectful but taking no position on the existence of God or the ultimate meaning of life. It is a process for protecting the rights of all religious and non-religious beliefs. This may simply be described as Separation of Belief & State, using Article 18 and the 1981 U.N. Declaration as rigorous guides to ensure all religious and non-religious metaphysical beliefs are protected from discrimination by the State and from each other. It gives recognition to the primacy of metaphysical beliefs as explaining the ultimate meaning of life, and respect for their influence on all other beliefs, political, economic, social and cultural as expressions of how to live accordingly.



The constitutional system of a country has a direct legal impact on a community, it must be clearly understood before starting to study Article 1: Legal Definition.

1. Constitutional Systems: If you are studying this training manual as a group, you may want to take Lesson 20: The State and Religion or Belief in Lifting the Spirit: Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief. Refer to your Community Resources List to find out what your national constitution says about freedom of religion or belief. Write below the principle or article in your constitution relating to freedom of religion or belief. Describe in one sentence each the two types of constitutional systems different from your own.

2. United Nations Approach: Describe the differences between your national constitution and the U.N. approach described as Belief & State