Separation of church and state

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The separation of church and state is the principle that religion and government have separate roles, and that neither should intrude upon the other: religious organizations may not set government policy, and the government may not privilege one religion over another, or religion in general over non-religion (and vice-versa).

In contrast, countries with an official state religion (such as Saudia Arabia or the United Kingdom) do not have separation of church and state, since the official religion is privileged over others.


United States

The separation of church and state derives from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which begins:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....

The phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution itself; it was first coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Church, to explain the intended effect of this part of the First Amendment.[1]

In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Supreme Court defined the Lemon test for determining whether a law violates the separation of church and state. A law is not constitutional unless:

  1. It has a legitimate secular purpose, and
  2. Its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion, and
  3. It does not cause an excessive entanglement between government and religion.


Section 116 of the Australian constitution states:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.


Article 2 of the French constitution states:

France is an indivisible, secular, democratic, and social Republic. It ensures the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction as to origin, race, or religion. It respects all beliefs.


Article 140 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany states:

The provisions of Articles 136, 137, 138, 139, and 141 of the German Constitution of August 11, 1919 shall be an integral part of this Basic Law.

The referenced article 137 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution begins:

There is no state church. Freedom to form religious communities is guaranteed. Regarding the unification of religious communities within the Reich territory there are no limitations. Every religious community administrates its own affairs without interference of state or community.


Article 20 of the Japanese constitution states:

(1) Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all.
(2) No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.
(3) No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice.
(4) The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.


Article 130 of the Mexican constitution states:

Congress cannot enact laws establishing or prohibiting any religion.


Article 2, section 6 of the Filipino constitution states:

The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.


Article 41 of the Portuguese constitution states:

The churches and religious communities are separate from the State and free to organize and exercise their own ceremonies and worship.


Article 14 of the Russian constitution states:

The Russian Federation is a secular state. No religion may be established as a state or obligatory one.
Religious associations shall be separated from the State and shall be equal before the law.

South Korea

Article 20 of the South Korean constitution states:

(1) All citizens enjoy the freedom of religion.
(2) No state religion may be recognized, and church and state are to be separated.

See also

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History of Christianity   Overview of early Christianity · Overview of middle Christianity · Overview of modern Christianity
Christianity and politics   Dominionism · America as a Christian nation · Australia as a Christian nation · Separation of church and state · Christianity invented secularism · Blue laws · Notable Christian political parties
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