The interrelationship of religious communities and the state has been a topic of controversy and their impact on human rights. One perspective asserts that the human rights and religious beliefs are complementary in nature in terms of similar ideas and several of the religious traditions reinforce the basic rights of humans, such as economic and social provision for the lower and needy people in the social strata. Other perspective asserts the dominance of religious beliefs over human rights, with the traditions being forced on the people. Both religion and state represent two powerful concepts that possess the capability to challenge and limit the movement of international human rights movement.
One of the major issues representing the state and religious community’s power over human rights is the distinction between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Freedom of religion is compromised by state conduct which bans the public expression of religious belief and restricts the religious practices. Such conduct is prevalent in secular states like China which defines the boundaries of the organized religions. Freedom from religion is also threatened by state wherein the state may impose the dominant religion, irrespective of the diverse religious beliefs of citizens. This leads to certain activities like prohibition of religious expression of religion other than dominant religion and other human rights violation like gender discrimination arising from religious texts.
The relationship between state and religion are diverse throughout the world and ranges from Establishment clause of the First Amendment to Constitution of United States to the persistent interrelationships between Islam and state in several countries. Both, the United States and Islamic countries are the extremes representing the relationship of state and religion and their respective involvement. The article 2 of Chapter I of General Principles of constitution of Iran states Islam as the dominant religion in the country and exerts the power of state on the citizens to practice Islam (Steiner, Alston & Goodman 2008, p. 584).
The religious liberty of the society is determined by the influence of state over the religion. It is determined upon two dimensions, namely the degree to which the action of states impact the religious beliefs and the degree of identification between state government and religious institutions. Broadly, over the spectrum, it can be assumed that total religious freedom and absence of religious freedom on the extremes of spectrum and non-identification of church and state and complete identification as two extremes on the establishment spectrum. These two spectrums are interconnected as when the identification of the church by state increases, the religious freedom also increases with the same decreasing with the reduction in the identification of religion by the state. However, the complete identification of church by state leads to no religious freedom, as the state emphasizes one specific religion to be practiced by citizens as in the case of Iran.
The interrelation of religion with State in United States is well-reflected in the case of Lynch V. Donnelly. The city of Pawtucket displayed a crèche in the district park which was challenged by respondents stating that city can’t display crèche in accordance to Establishment clause of the Fourteen Amendment. The verdict of the supreme court by Justice O’ Connor implied that the state government didn’t displayed the crèche with the intention to promote one religion, rather it was based on the acknowledgement of a religion similar to printing of coins with ‘In Gods We Trust’ and government declaration of Thanksgiving as the holiday. The interrelationship of state and religion is based on the constitution and government’s decision to promote one religion or to provide religious freedom to its citizens.
H.J. Steiner, P. Alston & R. Goodman. (2008). International human rights in context: law, politics, morals : text and materials. Oxford: Oxford University Press.