Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

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.

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23 Comments

  1. Posted 29 June, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I agree with most of this, but I have an issue with two aspects:

    (1) “We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders)” — OK, so a religious leader should be an adherent of the religion in question, I guess, but I don’t see why religions should get to discriminate against LGBT people, for example.

    (2) “We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life” — this depends on how broadly you define religion. What about if I wish to take a day off work because it’s a holiday in my religion (but it is not one of the secularised ones derived from the Christian calendar, e.g. Christmas)? Also, if my personal ethics demand a higher standard of conduct from me (e.g. not giving baksheesh in order to get a business contract), wouldn’t it then be a good thing if I brought my values into public life (my values are not dictated by my religion, as I would change my religion if it was not in accord with my ethics, but my ethics and my religion are intertwined).

    I think this is an excellent document, but it does seem to be based on the idea that all religions are creedal and rule-based — so it’s very much religion seen through a Protestant lens.

  2. Giffy
    Posted 29 June, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Yewtree,

    1. Thats a tough one. Personally I think that to some extent freedom of religion means religious groups can discriminate within their own groups. Likewise I think any ideologically based group should be able to discriminate. If one wants to set up a whites only political movement that should be their right. In the US the line is public accommodation or the receipt of state funds. So a store, which is open to the public cannot discriminate and neither can a school that gets government money. It seems to work pretty well.

    2. Some work places are moving toward the idea of personal holidays. I get one a year, in addition to my vacation time, that I can use on a day of my choosing. Practicality in many countries somewhat dictates that religious holidays be days off. If the vast majority celebrate a holiday then it becomes impossible for many businesses to stay open as everyone is taking the day off. Reasonably accommodation for peoples’ time off needs is not a special consideration if it is equally given to all.

    As for values, its the values that matter, not where they come from. However to the extent that values conflict with work, e.g. a Muslim not wanting to make interest baring loans working at a bank or a Christian pharmacist not wanting to distribute the morning after pill, then its probably best the person find a new job. Religion is not a get out of work free card. Nothing in this document would say prevent a religious person from being honest at work because their religion tells them to.

  3. dbmittens
    Posted 29 June, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I really, really like this and I look forward to hearing candidates in my country declare themselves for or against so that I can distinguish between pandering and principle.

    The fifth bullet is a bit mangled. There should be no commas or two commas. I would like there to be none and “which” changed to “that” so that it is clear that “respects the rights of others” is a restrictive clause applied to “private conduct.”

    The eighth bullet, “one law for all,” seems to unintentionally preclude laws intended to correct inequities over time, such as affirmative action laws. I have my own conflicts over such laws, but in any case, I don’t believe this declaration should have anything to say about them.

  4. John Small Berries
    Posted 29 June, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    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.

    In case we are asked to provide evidence to support the latter claim, which specific societies have shown that?

  5. Posted 29 June, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Giffy, thanks for your reply.

    Re (1): It’s logical for a women’s mutual support group to be women-only, or if whites were a persecuted group, for them to have an exclusive support group, or indeed for a religion to require its ministers to be adherents. But I think it’s wrong for them to exclude a group for a quality that is not essential to the performance of the role (in this example, being straight is not essential to being a good minister).

    Re (2): I was thinking of sensible values. For example, I used to be a Pagan and now I’m a Unitarian (not that those traditions are mutually exclusive). Both of these traditions lay strong emphasis on individual freedom and environmental responsibility, and both are inclusive towards LGBT people. So, if I was asked to do something at work that would cause massive environmental damage, or would discriminate against LGBT people, it would be against my personal values (which also happen to be espoused by my chosen religion – that’s why I chose it). So if I refuse to cause environmental damage or discriminate against LGBT people, am I bringing my religion in to public life in an inappropriate way?

    As you say, if the person’s moral code comes into conflict with the performance of tasks that are essential to the job, like dishing out contraceptives, then clearly they shouldn’t be in that role. I think that contraception should be freely available to all, and I expect you do too, and that’s also the consensus of our society. So the Christian pharmacist who refuses to dispense them is going against the consensus of society, but probably thinks that he or she is being perfectly reasonable (or acting in accordance with the will of God, or something).

    Another example: Quakers feel a very strong call to work for peace, and would like to not pay taxes that contribute to wars. I’m a fairly strong pacifist, though not to the extent that they are, so I sympathise with their views. But they are at the far end of the normal distribution curve of views on peace, war, just war, etc (i.e. there’s not really a consensus on this issue) so their input into the debate should be valued because they’ve been discussing it amongst themselves and developing peaceful practices for centuries.

  6. Giffy
    Posted 29 June, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    YewTree,

    Re 1, I agree that it is wrong, but I am not sure it should be illegal. I am not sure what Country you are from, but in mine the right of free association is a very important value. So is the right of equal opportunity. Balancing those can be tough, but I don’t see much harm in allowing religious or social groups to be discriminatory. If the Catholics don’t want women to be priests that is silly, but fundamentally their right.

    Re 2, I think it comes down to reasonable accommodation. If you took a job as a County employee in an area that did not recognize same sex unions your personal beliefs would not give you the right to hand out marriage licences to same sex couples. Likewise if you worked for BP your values would not say allow you to refuse to drill for oil. Now in both cases you would have the right to resign and to advocate for change. However if say you were working at a grocery store and did not want to handle pork (or say meat as a vegetarian), it would not be out of line to request an assignment to the produce section assuming there was plenty of staff coverage.

    I think the point is that it does not matter where the values come from. I, like you am a big fan of the environment and gay rights, but come to those from a wholly secular place. For me the issue is that the fact that someones values come from religion does not make them superior or entitled to more protection then values that derive from elsewhere. Thats what I think it means by special accommodation. Values are values whether religious or not.

  7. Timberwoof
    Posted 29 June, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Yewtree, religions and religius organizations should have the right to discriminate against whomever they want: they are private organizations and freedom of association is a fundamental right. One big argument against legalizing gay marriage is people wailing about churches being forced by government to marry gay people … as through a gay couple (or an couple, for that matter!) would want to be married in a hostile church. By guaranteeing the right of religions to be as bigoted a they want, we support the principles of religious freedom listed in the rest of the document. If you don’t like a church because of its political beliefs, don’t go to its services. They can excommunicate you if they want, but they can’t burn you at the stake.

  8. Posted 29 June, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    What do you mean by ‘rights’? Who are supposed to ensure those rights? Like the right to a secular education: if someone can’t afford school, who’s supposed to pay for it?

  9. Posted 29 June, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    So the purpose of the “except for religious leaders” clause is to protect the right of religious organizations to ban members as they see fit? Do fitness clubs also have this right? I suspect they do. So why not mention them as well?

  10. Posted 29 June, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    A little Googling shows that people have sued fitness clubs which denied them membership. Why does a privately owned fitness club not have the right to deny membership on whatever basis they choose? If there is no good answer to that question, then how could there be a good argument for letting churches arbitrarily deny membership to people? On the other hand, if there is a good reason for fitness clubs to be allowed to deny membership as they see fit, then the same argument should be applicable to churches. So why single out religion here?

  11. seathanaich
    Posted 30 June, 2010 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Great manifesto. Wouldn’t it be nice to see nations start adopting this, and then international organisations?

  12. Danny
    Posted 1 July, 2010 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    “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.”

    Isn’t this a bit contrary to the ideal of a democracy? By the ideal of a dem0cracy, I mean a government which is given its power directly by the people, and where the decision-making power ultimately lies with the people. If the people decide to elect a representative who wishes to mix religion and politics, isn’t that democracy in its truest form?

  13. Posted 1 July, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Danny, by that reasoning, no constitutional laws are democratic, because they place restrictions on the electorate.

  14. Posted 6 July, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I do find saying only dem0cracy a little odd, what if a newer form of social democracy arises, or which flavour of democracy. But no matter what political system, there’s always corruption.
    Were limiting to one specific type of “Govern-ment” rather than saying we oppose Theocracy.
    Under a light terms of the wiki definition for Theocracy; Ireland is a demorcatic theocracy “God is part of our constitution” -so I think this point bullet is wrong.
    Also how do you meassure successful societies, the Roman/British Empire??

    Also democracy does not mean secular, so do we assert for a secular society or not ??? as this bullet doesn’t state this.

  15. Mick
    Posted 7 July, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Giffy, about that pharmacist.

    In your quest to make sure the morning after pill is widely available should not conflict with a pharmacist who works by his/her ethics.

    Case in point; there’s a pharmacy on every block pretty much anywhere you go in this country.

    I would assert that not allowing the few moral Pharmacists who wish to not distribute a medicine which acts as an abortifacient – for the supreme purpose of tearing a baby away from its mother’s womb – is excessively wrong on many counts.

    What’s so wrong about that pharmacist reccommending you to another pharmacist who’s only happy to aid in the murdering of a precious life due to their lack of morals and actual concern for Life?

    And, trust you me, there’s a ton of Pharmacists out there willing to accomodate you on that- so why, why must you push your immorality onto those far and few imbetween moral practicing Pharmacists? Is that not more than just excessive? Is that not an agenda that surpasses, on your part, all sorts of decency and proper civility? Not to mention down right arrogant to the point of hate speech and actual persecution toward that pharmacist, which could have been overlooked and left well-alone while you pursued your much desired after morning murderous pill?

    I mean,- that was- yes, that was the initial quest for you in the first place, huh? To get the after morning pill. Sure, you can get it from a plethora of sources with no worries at all. So, why, why do you go even further to say that this one pharmacist should lose his/her job simply off of their own morals which do not hinde you in the least from obtaining what you had wanted right from the start?

  16. nozzferrahhtoo
    Posted 7 July, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    The pill is actually a good example of what this declaration should mean to us in term of secular ends and personal ends.

    If a person wants to open their own pharmacy with their own money, and chooses not to distribute the pill then this should be FINE. No one should have an issue with this. This is the business that person chooses to run, and if we want the pill we should take our business elsewhere.

    If a person wants to work in a state funded organisation, such as our hospitals, or a state doctor, or anything else, then that person works for the state and the state distributes the pill. in THIS case said doctor can either give out the pill or go up and find a new job.

    The difference here should be clear.

  17. M. Grutzmann
    Posted 8 July, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Great declaration. The few facts mentioned should be clarified in footnotes as well as the words that nobody should sign the declaration forcedly, only after careful reading and optionally changing or rejecting it for himself.

    I think the question of “History has shown that the most …” is not as ambitionate as argued above, it only asserts “most secular ones.” That is a statement I can also subscribe in China.

    I’d like to sign the declaration.
    M. Grutzmann

  18. Tanya
    Posted 8 July, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I find it quite appalling this declaration. Its all useless wranglings and ignorance. Do you not know that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? But yet you say its ok for them to publicly speak but not Christians. Why are athiests so scared about the teachings of Jesus Christ? If you dont want to believe him fine, turn away but theres no harm that comes from people wanting to follow Christ and his way of life, in fact you will not find greater peace or wisdom anywhere else. The Holy Bible is prophetic and proven.

  19. D Young
    Posted 9 July, 2010 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    I believe you folks misunderstood the clause about religious leaders, the wording the leaders employment, meaning the congregation or voting body has the right to be discrimitory about the leader chosen, just a little lesson in legalese.
    and to those talking about the day after pill, the problem letting a pharmicist make decisions about what prescriptions they will fill is that this is a very slippery slope, and very simply, those in the medical field should not be allowed to bring their faith to work, just like the police, those that have a hard time with this SHOULD have to find other vocations, and the problem has showed it self in the united state where there are states, whole states where a woman can’t get an abortion and the pill would follow suit, and to the bible thumpers that call it murder, your BIBLE states life does not begin until the first breath, so stop the blasphemy folks!

  20. nozzferrahhtoo
    Posted 9 July, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Tanya,

    “ But yet you say its ok for them to publicly speak but not Christians. “

    Can you point me to where it says that, I can not find it.

    “The Holy Bible is prophetic and proven.”

    Really? Where and how so. No one has proven it to me, or even given me the first shred of evidence that any of it is a true story, and not just well written moral fiction.

  21. Posted 14 July, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    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.

    I don’t like the way that religious leaders are given a special exemption for this statement of non-discrimination. I think it would instead be better to phrase it in a way that said no discrimination based on qualities that are either entirely inconsequential to the task being performed, or for which accommodations cannot be made for practical and non-discriminatory reasons.

    So, a non-religious person who does not subscribe to a particular faith and whom is unable or unwilling to fain belief and worship in order to fulfill the duties of the role, would likely not qualify for the position of a religious leader, at least not in favour of someone who is of the faith. So such a person is not being discriminated against purely because of their lack of faith, but because they would not meet the requirements of the position itself.

    Similarly, a wheelchair bound disabled person cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their disability, but they would not likely be suitable for the position that required them to have full use of their legs, such as, for example, working on a construction site where they would need to climb up and down ladders all day, unless there is a way for them to workaround their disability and still perform the required tasks.

    We oppose state funding for faith schools.

    I agree that funding given to a faith school for purposes inessential to the basic educational needs of students should certainly not come from the state. Such schools should absolutely not receive more funding than state schools.

    However, there is an argument to be made for limited funding on a per student basis that is sufficient to subsidise the cost of certain essential services and facilities, with a requirement that such state funding must be used as specified. For example, funding to subsidise, if not cover completely, the cost of text books required by the state.

    This is justifiable because it is highly likely that the student’s parents are tax payers, just like every other employed person, and it is tax payer money that goes towards the state’s education budget. So their choice to send their child to a faith school should not impose undue restrictions upon their child’s educational needs, with respect to benefiting from the state’s educational budget.

  22. Denis Griffin
    Posted 31 October, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Tanya,
    I doubt that you are right about atheists being scared of religion. In fact it is my experience that the religious dislike having their faith questioned while atheists have no argument with people who have decided otherwise.
    You assert that the bible is ‘proven’. Nozz… on July 9th asked for proof and I was looking forward to reading your reply.
    Meanwhile I refer you to Robert M Price’s ‘The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man’ (Prometheus Books, 2003). Professor G.A.Wells. University of London wrote in his critique ‘A thoroughly convincing demonstration that the Gospels are totally unreliable’

  23. margot Lesss]mann
    Posted 24 January, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins: “Atheists for Jesus” ( Wrong Atheist!!! )

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