6.7.4.8 Equal Political Treatment of All Ethnic Groups

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.  This policy is described by Ronald Dworkin, in chapter 3 of his book Is Democracy Possible Here?, as “tolerant religious”.  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 can be similarly tolerant towards all; it means that the civil law does not discriminate against any religious group or curtail religious practices. Ronald Dworkin described this policy as “tolerant secular”.  He pointed out that there is disagreement over whether the American Constitution could be described as “tolerant religious” or “tolerant secular”.
  • Karen Armstrong, on page 85 of her book The Battle for God, 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.  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, as Kemil Atatϋrk did in Turkey for example.  This was described by Karen Armstrong as “aggressive”, on page 191 of The Battle for God, and it resulted in the term ‘secularism’ being interpreted by the Muslim world as “an attempt to destroy Islam”.  She also described how 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 [pages 225-232].

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

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