I saw some pictures the other day of some Sikhs wearing turbans in the U.S. Army and it made me a little proud. America has done a decent job of allowing people of different faiths, or no faith, to coexist. Creationism is kept out of public schools, and the government is kept out of mass. But what’s particularly interesting about this is the diversity of approaches taken by other advanced democracies. America, France, Germany, and Great Britain all have modern religiously tolerant governments, but the way each goes about it is different.
Universal Toleration: The government doesn’t tell religions what to do, but the government (aside from some small instances of “ceremonial deism”) doesn’t promote religions at all.
Laïcité (aggressive secularism): The French model is arguably the most atheistic of any democratic country. The French have spent over 200 years trying to purge Catholicism from the public sphere, and it shows. While generally speaking the French are as free as anyone else to practice their religion, any interference in the public sphere can be attacked by the state. The most famous example being Sarkozy’s banning of the burqa.
Entangled Equality: The German model doesn’t separate church and state, it integrates them. Germany has a Church tax that people pay, and you can direct it to whatever religious community you want – Atheists have a few ethical societies they can choose from, or you can opt out entirely and send it to the state instead. Religion is taught in public schools, with parents being able to choose which denomination teaches their children, with a general philosophical ethics class available as well. The state administers many programs for various religions, but attempts to do so equally.
Official Church: England, on the other hand, still maintains an official church. Ancient endowments and donations ensure that the general public isn’t taxed to pay for the church anymore and other churches and religions are tolerated. The church serves a rather public ceremonial function and is the largest church in the country. Perhaps as a consequence of its official nature, the doctrine and practices of the Anglican church are very diverse, and it’s notably socially liberal. Though the Archbishop of Canterbury runs the church, and the Queen is its official head, Parliament has ultimate authority over the church. An official church doesn’t result in religious control of the state, but rather state control of religion.
I think the American model works best, because I don’t want to harass religious folks like the French sometimes do, I don’t want the government collecting taxes for churches, and I’m annoyed by the spectre of an official path to heaven. But of course I feel that way, I’m an American. If you couldn’t choose the American system, which would you choose?