International Institute for Religious Freedom

Responding to secularism: Latest issue of IJRF published

We are pleased to address in this issue the important issue of how secularism impacts religion and religious adherents.


Secularism arose in the West, largely through the influence of European philosophers and sociologists. Christians in the West have in- creasingly been marginalized in secular states. But secular intolerance has spread to other countries as well. The articles in this issue represent a wide range of current and historical issues across several countries. We trust that you will find them interesting and informative. Please note that this issue is being published in early 2022.

There are four opinion articles to start off this issue. The first opinion article is from a speech delivered by Thomas K. Johnson, theological advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance, to the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative. The speech encourages robust protection for freedom of religion or belief for all people of faith in the context of a post-secular world. The second opinion article, by Geert Lorein, looks at the role of law and religion in Belgium, where the government asks religious institutions to affirm that “religion does not stand above the law.” The third opinion article is by Teresa Flores and Dennis P. Petri summarizing the main findings of a research project conducted by the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America on self-censorship in Latin America. Dennis P. Petri and I contributed a fourth opinion article looking at the historical development of secularism and the definition of secular intolerance. It gives some context for the rest of the articles in this issue.

Dennis P. Petri and Ronald R. Boyd-MacMillan have contributed an interesting article on how Christian organizations have responded to secular intolerance, the results of interviews with Christian leaders. Following that comes an article from Italy, with an historical focus on the Waldensians at the time of the Risorgimento. This paper shows how having a secular government accompanied by religious freedom can facilitate spiritual awakening in a religious community.

There are several articles on laïcité in various countries. Mariëtta van der Tol writes on the historical and recent development of laïcité in France. Kristopher Kinsinger considers the manifestation of laïcité in Quebec with the recent Bill 21, which prohibits most government workers from wearing religious symbols. Marianna Molina focuses on laïcité in Mexico and the gap between the legal framework and existing realities. It is interesting to contrast how the secularist concept of laïcité has been implemented in three very different countries.

Two other articles address how secularism generally impacts Christians in particular countries. James Bultema focuses on secularism in Turkey and its impact on the Protestant Church. Alex Deagon contrasts legal cases in the U.S. and Australia with regard to interpreting the “free exercise” clause.

Finally, two articles address more theoretical issues. Barry Bussey responds to arguments that certain religious perspectives should not be granted religious freedom protection. He particularly focuses on freedom of conscience related to same-sex marriage. Hans-Martien ten Napel laments that European courts do not recognize institutional religious freedom, paying specific attention to a ruling on ritual slaughter.

We hope that these articles elucidate the challenges facing religious adherents under secular governments and provide food for thought for those defending them. We also have included book reviews on an interesting selection of recent publications. The opinion pieces and articles are clear that a country that includes religious minorities flourishes and is stronger as a nation.

Yours for religious freedom,
Janet Epp Buckingham, executive editor