Can religion play a part in the public sphere, or should it be only a private matter? Roger Trigg examines this question in the context of today's pluralist societies, where many different beliefs clamour for attention. Should we celebrate diversity, or are matters of truth at stake? In particular, can we maintain our love of freedom, while cutting it off from religion roots?
The laws of Western countries try to protect the rights of minorities, and often encourage an official neutrality to religion. Yet such neutrality can easily appear to be hostility to religion, which is then marginalized in society. Trigg looks at contemporary efforts to safeguard religious freedom, and, in particular, ways in which an emphasis on human rights can lead to a distancing of the public sphere from any support for religion. Yet this is happening in traditionally Christian countries, in which religion has been a formative influence upon both society in general and the legal system in particular. Must law itself be religiously neutral?
The separation of Church and State, enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, is growing into the separation of religion and society. Can this be justified? In other countries, is the fact of an Established Church a protection for religious freedom or its enemy? Trigg argues that reasoned public debate about the proper basis of society is necessary, and that religious voices should be heard. Whether it is the issues of same-sex marriages, the right of French schoolgirls to wear Islamic headscarves, or just the public display of Christmas trees, all societies have to work out a consistent approach to the public influence of religion.