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The Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

The recent Gods and Politics conference in Copenhagen adopted a “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.

No one is being asked to sign this, which is just as well—I am reticent about signing things drafted by others. Still, I wouldn’t have too many quibbles about this one, and it’s a great document for discussion. (I can think of at least a couple of quibbles, off-hand, and maybe there’d be more if I really thought it through. But they’re not huge, and and as with other such documents, I’m not posting it for the sake of my quibbles but for info and discussion.)

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.

Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.


Not bad.
Just one question:
“History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular. “

And vice versa?

“History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.” As long as you point out an anomaly such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia, which a bland declaration from Copenhagen wont do.

And this declaration is supposed to be necessary - today? Is it 2010 or 1010?

One way of looking at the Cold War might be as a struggle between extreme secularism and moderate secularism, with the moderately secular side plainly winning. I suppose this depends on how you define ‘secular’; if you define it as ‘religious freedom’, then obviously the democratic side was more secular. But it seems like the definition of secular really ought to be the extent to which religion is excluded from public affairs, in which case it seems that the communist side was arguably far more dedicated to secularism.

As someone who has tangled - sometimes quite publicly - with some New Atheist leaders over unproven social science assumptions, I can honestly say there is nothing in this statement I could not endorse happily.

I would, however, have to agree with the commenter that this sentence - “History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular” - may be subject to challenge.

I certainly disagreed with Sam Harris’ statement that Buddhist (and therefore non-theistic) countries are less violent than theistic ones.  The top ten Buddhist countries in the world (by percentage of population) include Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia ... shall I continue?  Social and military violence are caused by many factors.

That said - excellent statement.

“I certainly disagreed with Sam Harris’ statement that Buddhist (and therefore non-theistic) countries are less violent than theistic ones.” Repressed societies can contain latent violence, Pol Pot being the most obvious example; Cambodians attempted to keep their cool, but it went bad, very bad. I noticed that very civil Midwestern-American Scandics often bottle up their anger, and become Lutherans—or somesuch smile

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