Equal Political Treatment of All Ethnic Groups

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6748.htm)

People are more likely to feel that they are being fairly treated if a government has explicit policies for treating all ethnic groups equally and allowing freedom of belief.  Political neutrality can take different forms:

  • A government can be tolerant towards all religions and none, although it bases its values on its own religious principles; Ronald Dworkinreferred to this stance as “tolerant religious”.[1] Political parties with names such as ‘Christian Democrat’ might fall into this category.
  • It can be secular, in the sense of being without religion, and be similarly tolerant towards all; this is described by Ronald Dworkin as “tolerant secular”, and it means that the civil law does not discriminate against any religious group or curtail religious practices.
  • Karen Armstrong quoted Thomas Jefferson’s argument that there should be a “wall of separation” between religion and politics – and that this was the intention behind the First Amendment of the US Constitution.[2] The need at that time was principally to gain the support of the different sects within Christianity, but it also caters for the protection of other religious groups including Jews and Muslims.
  • Governments can attempt to make religion subordinate to the State, which is a policy that was practised by Kemil Atatϋrk in Turkey for example, and resulted in the term ‘secularism’ being interpreted by the Muslim world as “an attempt to destroy Islam”.[3] A similar policy, as adopted by the Shah of Iran, led to a religious backlash which resulted in the Ayatollah Khomeini coming to power in 1953 to establish an Islamic State.[4]

The evidence suggests that tolerance towards religion is a more viable policy than attempting to suppress it.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014


[1] Ronald Dworkin described “Two Models” of government tolerance towards religion in chapter 3 of his book Is Democracy Possible Here?  He pointed out that there is disagreement over whether the American Constitution could be described as “tolerant religious” or “tolerant secular” (pp.  62-64).

[2] Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, p. 85.

[3] She described Kemil Atatürk’s secularisation of Turkey as “aggressive” (ibid., p. 191).

[4] She described the resurgence of fundamentalism in Egypt and Iran, and how that led to revolution in the latter (ibid., pp. 225 – 232).

Her book was written long before the uprising in Egypt as part of the ‘Arab Spring’, which resulted in the installation of a “moderate Islamist government” – as described in an article entitled A long march, published in the Economist on 18 February 2012; this article was available in March 2018 at http://www.economist.com/node/21547853.