Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Of Secular States and Secularists

Steve, with respect, I strongly disagree with your post below.  I think that this statement in your post is, quite frankly, startling: "In my view, the Lautsi case shows that the Italian state is secular in name only and that it has purchased that name at the cost of religious frivolity on the one hand and the draining of religion from the primary symbol of the Christian religion on the other."

If the Italian state is not a secular state, I can't see that any nation on earth can claim the title.  Its government is run by civil, not religious authorities.  It is a constitutional state of human, not divine, laws -- including laws guaranteeing the right to abortion.  It is not a theocracy in any sensible interpretation of that word.

What the Lautsi case shows, in fact, is that it is perfectly possible for a state to be both deeply secular in the relevant sense without adhering to the view that it needs to secularize itself and its citizenry -- to remove systematically all symbols of its Christian and Catholic heritage, scrubbing the public square clean of them.  It's a lesson that secularists the world over have yet to learn, but (as many secularists are my friends) I continue to hold out hope for them. 


DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

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Posted by: Michael Scaperlanda | Jul 27, 2011 11:37:21 AM


Posted by: Michael Scaperlanda | Jul 27, 2011 11:37:21 AM

For many secularists the sign of secularism is an absence of any religious speech or symbols in the public square. Banishing religion to the ghetto of the church building itself is the preferred model. If it peaks outside it is immediately shoved back in. Secularism and iconoclasm are brothers.

Posted by: Fr. J | Jul 27, 2011 12:57:08 PM

"...but as many secularists are my friends, I continue to hold out hope for them."

To hold out Hope, is to reflect the Truth of Love, for Christ Has revealed through His Life, His Passion and His Death on The Cross, that the fullness of Love is desiring salvation for our beloved.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Jul 27, 2011 2:32:55 PM

For decades, America and Europe have been avoiding the implications of such strict separationism for our "separate" track of debate about the size, shape, and role of the modern State.

A strict separationism could work most easily in a minimalist state. The state could scrub out all God references in its small corner of the world. The rest of society, meanwhile, could infuse its private schools, hospitals, and so on with religious symbols, religious teaching, and more.

But if the state reaches into every corner of society, and still preaches separation, something has to give. One approach is for the state to water down from true separationism, and accomodate religious content on "its" turf, whether on a pluralist model (e.g., state-funded schools of various faiths, city halls displays of creches, emnorahs, and Santa together), or a majoritarian-monopolist one, such as the crosses. But that involves constant bean-counting and/or watering down the religious content by calling it no longer religious. We have mostly played that game.

The other approach is extreme eliminationism. The State reaches almost everywhere, and the State cannot touch the Church anywhere, so the Church -- and all religious activity -- must retreat from every tentacle into a dwindling corner closet. This is the agenda for many, and its simple logic is powerful enough to sweep along many who do not share the goals of those driving the effort.

We are failing in our efforts to maintain the first approach, and even when we "win," it is only by appealing for the State's sufferance to keep our symbols by insisting they are meaningless.

It is time to face the truth: We cannot have all three of (1) a robust Church, engaged in society, (2) strict separationism, and (3) an extensive State that reaches everywhere.

We are currently losing the first because we are fighting only the second at the fringes, and cannot do otherwise. Thus, the Church should rethink its approach to the third, because the Church's need for breathing room requires beating back the dominance of the State in society. Helping to grow the State, but asking the Leviathan to be friendly to us in return, has failed. It's time to dust off the part of Church teaching that has always warned against an overweening State, and stop letting our social-justice desires make us a patsy in our own marginalization and destruction.

Posted by: radical | Jul 27, 2011 5:46:48 PM

I think it's a mistake to equate opposing crucifixes in classrooms with opposing religious speech in the public square. For instance, there are many who would say that schools should not endorse religious symbols but who would fully support the right of teachers to wear, say, crucifixes as necklaces (or headscarves).

What this issues comes down to (for me) is this. Say a school was going to commission a sculpture for the front lawn, and the design committee came back with two options: a crucifix or a Star of David. Most Christians would probably vote for the crucifix, and most Jews would probably vote for the star. Why? Because there is value in the state endorsing symbols of your religion. And that is exactly the kind of thing that the Establishment Clause (I admit I don't know much about European constitutional law) is designed to prevent.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jul 27, 2011 8:39:03 PM