A simple and real meaning of a secular democracy

Confusion regarding the democratic principle of a secular state runs deep in India. Secular nature of state is often, and quite deliberately, coupled with “secularism” which is invariably associated with Communism. “Pseudo-secularist” is the most common label associated with political parties that do no support the idea of Hindu nationalism.

That state and government ought to be neutral regarding religion is a basic principle of democracy. This is not a partisan issue. A political party that does not subscribe to the principle of a secular state is anti-democracy and, by implication, actually subscribes to fascism. Secular state simply means religion neutral state. Which simply means which ever political party is given the reins of government it is prohibited from propagating or establishing any religion.

In a democracy, ALL citizens are equal irrespective of their personal religious affiliation. Consequently, a secular democratic state guarantees freedom of religion to all. Which means a person if free to practice his/her religion in his/her place of worship, home, and heart.

No one should fall prey to Hindutva propaganda that secularism means destruction of religion or favoring a minority. That is nonsense. It is in the interest of ALL people that the State and its governments remain religiously neutral and free of religious discrimination. A country as diverse as India cannot remain peaceful and safe if overtaken by religious fascism. Political parties that do not subscribe to this principle of separation of religion from the affairs of the State are not democratic. Seriously, such a party cannot be a true participant in the democratic process.

In the U.S. this principle is often referred to as Separation of Church and State. In that respect, even though the word secular is not officially used, United States is a secular democracy — because the governments (both Federal and States) cannot establish (or favor) any single religion. Consequently, to ask someone’s religion on a job application, for example, is illegal. To discriminate, for example, in housing based on religion is illegal in all of United States. So while the politically religious continue to insist that the U.S. is a “Christian Nation,” its history and current practices clearly makes the U.S. a secular country.

THE PRAYER BAN IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS illustrates the above point: All U.S. states have a publicly funded high schools system. These schools are run by the local (municipal) governments and provide free education to all school age children. Habits die hard. Christian prayers were routine in many schools and continued on until 1962. This practice was challenged as unconstitutional because it was seen as supporting and favoring religion, in particular, Christianity. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court (the ultimate deciding authority on all constitutional matters) found this practice of morning prayers in U.S. public schools as unconstitutional. Public school prayers were banned in 1962-1963 by judgment of the highest court.

Every school jurisdiction in all 50 states of the U.S. fully comply with this landmark decision. No more are Christian prayers recited in public schools because those schools are government institutions. And in a secular democracy government cannot even give the appearance of favoring a particular religion. However, since the last 50 years, screaming and opposition by Christian political activists still continues. It is clear that understanding this simple principle of democracy is still very difficult for some religiously inclined people. In fairness, the majority of Christians in the United States support this principle and want religion out of its government institutions.

CHRISTIAN AND OTHER PRIVATE SCHOOLS are free to start their school day with a prayer. The prayer ban does not apply to private schools or institutions. So if a Catholic high school, for example, wishes to have prayer, Bible study, or even classes on Christianity they are free to do so.

Pointing out the above fact is important because the Hiduatva people in India continue to spread lies about this separation of religion and state principle. Calling it pseudo-secularim. They wrongly propagandize that a secular state means destruction of religion and banning of religion. They confuse the Russian communist or the Chinese communist governments with a secular democracy. The former Soviet Union was not a democracy. The present day China is not a democracy. Therefore, the Hinduatava propaganda about secular democracy is clearly false because United States continues to be the most religious country in the Western (Christian) world!

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