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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

No one is being asked to sign this, which is just as well - I am reticent about signing things drafted by others. Still, I wouldn't have too many quibbles about this one, and it's a great document for discussion. (I can think of at least a couple of quibbles, off-hand, and maybe there'd be more if I really thought it through. But they're not huge, and and as with other such documents I'm not posting it for the sake of my quibbles but for info and discussion.)

H/T PZ Myers

=========================
The recent Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen adopted the following Declaration on Religion in Public Life. The conference was the first European event of Atheist Alliance International, and was co-hosted by AAI and the Danish Atheist Society.

We, at the World Atheist Conference: “Gods and Politics”, held in Copenhagen from 18 to 20 June 2010, hereby declare as follows:

•We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
•We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
•We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
•We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
•We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
•We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
•We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all, subject to limitations only as prescribed in international law – laws which all governments should respect and enforce. We reject all blasphemy laws and restrictions on the right to criticize religion or nonreligious life stances.
•We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities, and no jurisdiction for religious courts for the settlement of civil matters or family disputes.
•We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders) and the provision of social services on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, class, caste or sexual orientation.
•We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life, and oppose charitable, tax-free status and state grants for the promotion of any religion as inimical to the interests of non-believers and those of other faiths. We oppose state funding for faith schools.
•We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs. We support the spirit of free inquiry and the teaching of science free from religious interference, and are opposed to indoctrination, religious or otherwise.
Adopted by the conference, Copenhagen, 20 June 2010.

Please circulate this as widely as you can among people and groups who advocate a secular society.

33 comments:

tildeb said...

Bravo.

Kristjan Wager said...

It should perhaps be explained that this declaration came out as a result of a suggestion of the first speaker at the conference - so it was hammered out in 3 days.

All in all, it is a pretty decent work, and even if there are some things I do quite agree with, I found the overall declaration be pretty sound (as did most of the participants still around when we voted on the declaration - I only saw a couple of votes against).

Ophelia Benson said...

We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders)

Okay that's a big mistake right there - that just perpetuates the old "the one place it's ok to exclude women is the top religious jobs" - which sounds nice and respectful and free conscience-y but in fact just endorses a situation in which men make all the religious rules that govern women's lives. It systematically bans more than half of all humans from having any say in rules that can shape and distort and limit their lives in massive ways. This isn't some minor concession, and that needs to be recognized.

tildeb said...

OB, I assumed (dangerous, I know) that discrimination in employment regarding religious leaders pertained to that leader endorsing whatever religious precepts were fundamental to that religious organization. I never thought of it as based on anything else, but you are right: allowing institutionalized misogyny only under the exemption of religion is not a concession that I think is justifiable but contrary to secular values.

Kristjan Wager said...

Ophelia, I can see your point, and you're absolutely right. That should have been worded differently, as to remove the "loop-hole"

Jason Streitfeld said...

I don't understand the reason for the "other than for religious leaders" clause. Is the problem that some people who don't endorse religion X are going to become leaders of religion X? Is that a real danger?

If the rationale was that religious beliefs might be essential to some job functions, then there's no reason to make that an explicit part of the declaration. If a job requires that you profess some religious belief, then you aren't being discriminated against if you are unwilling or unable to profess that belief. It's not discrimination.

All in all, there's a lot to like in the declaration. I particularly appreciate the last two points, though I think the last one could have been fleshed out a bit more. Still, I'm not compelled to sign it. A few things give me misgivings. Ultimately, I would prefer a much simpler declaration. Still, I congratulate and thank the people who contributed for giving us something to chew on.

Robert N Stephenson said...

And that was the best a so called group of learned thinkers could produce in 3 days.

Even I could deliver a more reasoned policy here. Forgive me peeps, the motives behind the document may be sound, the idea quite rational but the document incredibly poor by any standard. I have written policy and done so in a day not 3. Quite ordinary.

Ophelia - religions are not for the manipulation of atheists, though they do try. What is your stand on Aboriginal men excluding women from tribal ceremonies.

As I said, quite an ordinary document -- it's value will be reflected likewise.

Russell Blackford said...

Don't get me wrong, Kristjan, I think it's very good. Possibly a bit too much detail to get total assent from me or anyone, but very good.

Russell Blackford said...

I suppose if it had been me, I would have stopped much earlier. There's no need in something like this to go into a lot of detailed issues on which there can be disagreement. It tends to make it look as if we are movement with a manifesto rather than that we just have a broad commitment to secularism (in the political sense). So, even though I agree with much that comes afterwards, I would have just said this (I've corrected one sentence for grammar/punctuation):

•We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
•We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
•We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
•We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
•We assert that private conduct that respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
•We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
•We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all.

Lisa Bauer said...

I do have a serious question -- would any of these proposals come into conflict with, for example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights or other such documents when it comes to "religious liberty"? I can imagine that a clause about being against "indoctrination" in education being a potential infringement of parents' right to educate their children as they see fit (Article 26 of the UDHR).

Robert N Stephenson said...

This allows for an incorporated approach while removing aspect that will cause contention.

It is simpler and direct while portraying the ideals in a fashion that would not cause concern to any involved.

This would also be closer to UN understandings and acceptability



•We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only when those rights infringe on other rights.
•We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reasonable assessment.
•We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of secular based law.
•We assert that the most equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
•We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
•We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all.

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson, you excluded from Russell's list the rejection of using dogma to determine public policy and the right of people to conduct themselves in private as they wish without government interference.

Why, exactly, did you omit those particular parts?

Robert N Stephenson said...

The mention of dogma is the introduction of a negative into a positive statement position. It is clear in the formulation base the process to be used.

To add dogma signifies something to be discussed where you don't want it discussed at all.

The other omission on reflection might have been a bit hasty, though it did, in a way have a repetitious feel about it. Though it is an idealists proposal, and nothing more, it is always better to be simpler than complex. What I have set about is very strong and supportive of the ideal.

Also, Russell's still stated a personal position, and in policy this can't even be hinted at. Dry, I know, but that is how it works

Lisa said...

(Wasn't signed in earlier, sorry.)

I have a tendency to get hung up on concrete specifics, even on such an idealistic and quickly assembled statement as this, so forgive the nitpicking.

Still...I'm always interested in the areas where rights and freedoms clash, such as "freedom to practice one's religion" with "nondiscrimination, or "nondiscrimination" with "freedom of association." But how it would be acceptable for the state to interfere in the rules of choosing a religion's own clergy by e.g. insisting they ordain women and so on, and then to still claim "separation of church and state" is beyond me. The Egyptian government selects the head of Al-Azhar in Cairo and thus this top cleric is considered merely a government mouthpiece by a lot of other Sunni Muslims. Turkey, despite being "secular," still has a government office in charge of all mosques and clerics in the country. The governments of some countries have demanded the right to choose bishops. Of course, this kind of government "meddling" in religious affairs guarantees that religion will be infused with politics politics, with Party X demanding its candidate be chosen, the candidates tailoring their message to appeal to one or another leader or faction...it's certainly not what I think of when I consider "separation of religion and state"!

Robert N Stephenson said...

The separation of CHurch and State is quite an issue in many countries. Italy is having to reconsider much of its political system because of this issue - but I doubt it will be resolved in my life time.\

Part of Christian faith actually talks about freedom to believe, but in something Jesus said, if the coin bears Caesars head then it belongs to Caesar -- or, the law of the land still applies, no matter what you believe privately.

I don't know if this exists in Islamic teachings.

The state needn't control the Christian faith, but it may need to sometimes remind them of their own teachings

Jambe said...

I dunno about the necessity of the dogma bit; I'd be fine with or without it. It strikes me as a reinforcement of the rest of the clause. Using evidence and reason to inform public policy would preclude dogma, wouldn't it? On the other hand, it could be a reminder to be aware of our tendency to take laws and customs for granted, or our tendency to be less critical of long-established laws & customs.

The respectful private conduct bit is absolutely necessary. It is not the slightest bit "repetitious".

Robert N Stephenson said...

I did say I was hasty in the removal of the clause - it could be worded a bit better but it's meaning is correct.

The only reason I mention dogma (leave out) is because it does suggest there is an alternative to reason and proper assessment. The two stated position create two choices or suggest the process - the other, or dogma isn't a process at all, it is a pre-set rule packet. But again, if you include it, there is the suggestion if reason and assessment fail then there is the dogma fall back, regardless of the 'not' imposed

There is an odd event that happens in the human brain and it has to do with how the terms No, Not and don't are perceived. For some strange reason (yes there is research into this) the brain selectively ignore those terms. That is probably why I opt for the possitve reinforcement within documents and try and avoid the negatives - which usually get ignored anyway.

That's another story...

Rupert said...

Thanks to the fundies favourite false idol, George bible-bashing born-again buffoon Bush and his personal vendetta against Iraq, I have spent the better part of today working on an aspect of the memorials for two young men who lost their lives in Afghanistan.

If he had not gone into Iraq, I believe the situation in Afghanistan would be better than it is.

So right now my inclination is for religion to be outlawed. I will not countenance so much as a hint of it in our society.

Robert N Stephenson said...

While war is deplorable and the death of anyone, soldier, civilian on any side is reprehensible, it was not religion that sent those boys to war...

It was George Bush and for why, it could be explained better by the loved ones of all those who died in 9/11

The problem Rupert, despite what you or I believe or want politicians make the decisions. Some of those politicians who sent those boy to war were Atheist Rupert - most of the protests against Bush were Christians as well a secular.

Be angry all you like, and I am angry as well, our former PM sent our people to war in support of your country, and kids are being blown to bits for supporting you.

You can do the big religious blame thing all you like, the government won't listen. Didn't listen before the war and won't listen now. I would love to ban Atheism if I could - they were part of the government who started this death trap, why should they get away scott free...

Rupert said...

Yes it was. The roots of 9/11 can be traced back to religion. 9/11 was the cause (probably justified) for invading Afghanistan.

George Bush won the presidency through subterfuge, more than partly backed by religious causes. He wore his 'born-again' fundamentalism on his sleeve and used it.

George Bush chose to invade Iraq. That meant there are significantly less resources available to conduct the campaign in Afghanistan.

Wars are fought in the name of religion. Wars are fought in retaliation. Wars are fought in the name of political dogma. Wars are never fought in the name of atheism.

'I would love to ban Atheism if I could - they were part of the government who started this...' - how on earth do you justify this statement?!?

And as an aside, I live under the PM, not the president.

Russell Blackford said...

Come on folks, drop the rhetoric. Banning beliefs (even negative beliefs such as "I don't believe Thor exists") is what we in the trade call persecution. There are hundreds of years of experience with this. It doesn't work. By all means be angry with some belief or its adherents, but advocating persecution is the last thing we should be doing.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Death is death, loss is loss, blame is nothing but grief searching for someone to hate. It doesn't change one thing at all. Death is still death. It is how you choose to live life afterward that is the difference between despair and hope. The dead have no religion, they are just dead. You want to make more of it, go right ahead.

Rupert said...

Sorry Russell, I had to vent. Not a nice day. Not the appropriate forum.

Apologies to all.

Robert N Stephenson said...

My apology to Rupert, Russell and others - the banning comment is quite inappropriate - so too the immense negativity when two young lives have been lost so tragically. Again. I am truly sorry.

Kristjan Wager said...

"And that was the best a so called group of learned thinkers could produce in 3 days."

No.

The process was thus:
1) On the first day, there was a call for suggestions to the declaration.
2) On the second day, during the lunch break, people worked together to get these suggestions fused together into a draft
3) The draft was made available for attendees, who could comment on it
4) A final version was created, based upon the draft and the comment to it
5) There was a vote on the final version

All of this was done, while there was a conference going on.

Jason Streitfeld said...

I found the inclusion of "dogma" slightly problematic. If taken as an exclusion of authoritarian practices, then I embrace it. But it could be taken as an attempt to exclude any received and questionable set of beliefs and principles. In that case, I think it is highly problematic. We always rely on a great many questionable and received beliefs. I'd reword the declaration to clarify this.

Also, the original document (and Russell's shortened version) include this: "History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular." Whether or not that is true depends on how you define "success." If you define it in terms of longevity, then it's certainly not true, because religious societies have been around much longer than secular ones. There's also evidence that religious people tend to have more children, which is evidence that religious societies are better at propagating the species. (I'm not saying this is decisive evidence, but only that it could legitimately be used in a debate.) In any case, it's not clear what standard is being used to measure success, and I expect any standard is hotly debatable. So I'd just avoid the point altogether--it doesn't seem to have a role to play in the declaration.

We must remember that this declaration was not planned. If you look at the conference schedule, no meetings were designated for any declaration council. Furthermore, I doubt many of the people who participated had any experience drafting this kind of document, and the people who did have experience may not have been in a position to make the most difference. So I'm not surprised that this isn't so solid. A better document could have been drafted by a smaller, focused group of thinkers who were working for even a fraction of the time spent on this at the conference. But I wouldn't hold that against anyone.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Still, despite my own misgivings - it has a solid basis.

And I also left out the history section -- too many problems

Russell Blackford said...

Actually, I could do without the history bit, too. Still, a document like this will inevitably have at least some editorialising.

If it were actually being negotiated between, say, a bunch of atheists and a bunch of liberal Christians that bit could go - we could think of it as a bit of an ambit claim - but it was being put up forward by an atheist conference, and most atheists would probably be able to accept at least the spirit of it.

axxyaan said...

•We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.

Well I already don't agree with this one. What it does is to provide protection against arbitrariness only for the religious. If you have two people wanting/needing to initiate some kind of activity and some unnecessary relugation makes it impossible, the religious one can claim his religious freedom is violated and get things reversed but the unreligious one cannot, even if his need to do so can be just as great.

Why should religious people get this kind of privilege vs unreligious people?

Robert N Stephenson said...

wee -- the new internet connection works.

Trust the God of wireless abilities to come to my rescue.

Now, on the issue of rights. We all have them, ignore one and you ignore them all

mryana said...

Wow.

I'm so glad, in my lifetime, to see an atheist apologize for his atheistic behavior!

Looks like he just might convert to the believers' side. Thanks to other atheists! Oh, the irony of it all.

Truth be told; he's only the tip of the iceberg..., unfortunately.

Marshall said...

•We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.

If you've got this one and the one about freedom of conscience, I don't know that the others add anything.

In the modern democracies, public policy is often determined by majority vote, which is itself an evidence-based rational process. However, each individual vote is determined by whatever method the voter finds appropriate. Since many of the voters will be informed by their religious faith, so we have a bit of a problem here, which was on display in the Proposition 8 result in California. (Personally, I think the voters turned in the wrong result in Prop 8, and I assume most here agree with me. And the wrong result arose from a significant influence from the values of some religious voters.) Is Democracy anti-secular? Surely not.

I think public policy should be informed mainly by a high ethical standard. There has been renewed debate lately about whether or not ethics or morals are inferable from evidence by reason; the results aren't in, but I'm doubtful. At least nobody has done it yet.

I'm not sure you want "policy" in this topic, implying large goals and overall direction, such as Kennedy's national goal to put a man on the moon. I don't see that a goal or value like that can be selected and institutionalized by an entirely rational process. What works here is that the implementation of policy goals - the regulation-making process - should be informed by evidence and reason.

In short: Government, once selected by the will of the people, should proceed by evidence-based, rational methods.

mryana said...

"History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular."

Good, rock-solid, unmistakable, tangible, truthful evidence requested on this assertion, please!