Religion and Democracy Can Mix, Says U.S. Professor

Joseph Weiler Says the American Model Doesn’t Apply to Europe

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MADRID, Spain, DEC. 12, 2003 ( Two ideas that fail to convince Jewish professor Joseph H.H. Weiler are that religion threatens democracy, and that laicism and neutrality are equivalent concepts.

Weiler, who holds the Joseph Strauss Chair of Law and the Jean Monnet Chair on the European Union at New York University’s School of Law, expressed that view when presenting his book “A Christian Europe” to journalists here.

An expert on European constitutional law, he defends the inclusion of Christianity in the draft Constitution being prepared for the continent.

Weiler believes that the American message, which relegates religion to the private sphere, is incongruent with the European situation.

“The American message seems to say: If you are democratic, religions should be something private,” Weiler said Wednesday. “Is a state like Denmark, where the Constitution recognizes Lutheranism as the official church, less democratic than the United States?”

He says it is necessary to flee from the creed that maintains that religion and democracy are mutual enemies.

“The message of the real European model is that there is no contradiction between religion and democracy; one must not fear the other,” Weiler said.

He notes that England and Denmark — whose Constitutions make explicit reference to their respective official religions — as well as France — where the secular state avoids any mention of the religious factor — are equally democratic.

Weiler thinks that “the premise of laicism” — which has dominated the working sessions of the Convention in the redaction of the future European Constitutional Charter — “is representative of the European situation.” But it does not respond to reality, and its defenders defend it from a false comparison between “laicism and neutrality,” he says.

This false assumption, which he said is taught to many law students, must be able to answer one question: “Why is the ‘no’ to the religious reference considered neutral?”

“The secular position is honorable, but not neutral,” Weiler said. “A secular state is not a neutral political option.”

By way of example, the professor referred to the real neutrality of the Polish Constitution, whose preamble he described as “elegant,” as it makes a pluralist mention both for those “who believe that God is the origin of justice, beauty, good and many other values, and those who believe in those values, while not believing in God.”

In the French, Italian and Spanish secular positions, whose Constitutions defend laicism in the name of pluralism and liberalism, there is, according to Weiler, an “internal contradiction.” In fact, laicism denies European pluralism, he contended.

To illustrate this, Weiler said that half of the European Union countries recognize Christianity in their constitutions, and this reality must be taken into account together with those who have assumed a secular “ethos,” such as France and Italy, if genuine pluralism is to be upheld.

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