For the conference: Globalisierung, Kulturen, Religionen /

Religions - Cultures - Globalisation: Living Together in a Global Age


July 30 -Aug. 1  Salzburg, Austria


Paper on: "Secularism and Freedom of Religion in Multi-cultural Democracies"

Author: William Sweet


We are all familiar with a number of cases where there seems to be a conflict between the freedom of religion and other values characteristic of democratic nations. These conflicts may be even more dramatic in democratic countries where there is an explicit policy of multiculturalism. What philosophically justifiable policies are there that might help to resolve these (apparent) conflicts? Is secularism an answer?

            In this intervention (of about 10 minutes duration), I begin with a brief mention of some cases where we find a tension or apparent conflict between ‘the freedom of religion’ and other democratic values or practices. I then outline what is meant, first, by democratic values (particularly where they include multiculturalism) and, second, by freedom of religion. After a description of what freedom of religion is, I ask what reasons are commonly given in democratic states for imposing limits on this freedom. I argue, however, that there may be additional considerations and reasons for limiting freedom of religion, and that democratic nations – particularly nations that embrace multiculturalism – have tended to fail here. Finally, I address the question whether a policy of secularism (such as that envisaged by John Rawls or Richard Rorty) might be a solution.