Separation of Church and State and Antitheism

Author Zane Dangor makes strong points in “Left Up to Faith” advocating for the importance of secular governments to provide fair, religiously neutral gover­nance. Indeed, secular government is the only truly impartial stance govern­ment can take. Dangor also showed the fascinating ways that religion sometimes imposes its will on public policy. As he mentions, even when the laws indicate church–state separation, religious imposition can be present in a state if it is nearly monolithic religiously or if there aren’t enough safeguards in place. For further research on this topic, I recommend reviewing the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Freedom of Thought Report, which annually details the chal­lenges to both freedom of and freedom from religion in most countries in the world.

Along with these strong points of his, the article I think mistakes the issue when it attempts to address “certain forms of secularism [that] have also served to curtail human rights.” Whereas secularism is simply the principle that religion and government should remain separate, Dangor’s description of an Islamophobic “secular fundamentalism” is a some­what misplaced criticism. Secularism doesn’t have a worldview or set of beliefs that could be used as a weapon against religious minorities. Rather, the anti-religious concerns that Dangor raised are more appropriately labeled “antitheism,” a term embraced by the late Chris­topher Hitchens. I want to let it be known that most humanists, like Dangor and certainly most secularists, don’t allow antitheistic ideas to inform their recommendations for public policy.

ROY SPECKHARDT

Executive Director, American Humanist Association  

Washington, DC

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