The Essence of article 11- Separation of State and Religion

Ethiopia, being the home of many and different nations, nationalities, and peoples with diverse religion, culture, and way of life, ensuring the equality of religions by adopting the principle of separation of state and religion and giving constitutional guarantee is the cardinal solution in ensuring lasting peaceful coexistence.  if we see the relation of state and religion from the time the first written constitution came in to existence, i.e. 1931 to the present FDRE Constitution, there are three different types of relations between state and religion; in their chronological order:

  1. “Theocracy”- though its name implies as if the religion was dominating the state, religion was used as source of legitimacy to get state power. The Orthodox church was a privileged religious sect by the motto of the day, “one nation, one religion, and one language.” Religion was also used as a “unifying” factor disregarding the other religious dominions. Hence, state and religion hadn’t had clear demarcation and equality of religion was a day dream.
  2. Socialism- during the period of the Derg, the state was over the religion. Though some argue that communism which is the omega of socialism, quasi-religion ideology, the Derg labeled religious institutions as bottlenecks of development and means of oppression. Hence, religion was subordinate and subservient to the then ideology of the state which was socialism.
  3. Secularism- this concept is relatively new concept to the relationship of state and religion in Ethiopia which came up with the promulgation of the FDRE Constitution. Although secularism and secularization are closely related, there are real differences because they do not necessarily offer the same answer to the question of the role of religion in society. Secularism is a system or ideology based on the principle that there should be a sphere of knowledge, values, and action that is independent of religious authority, but it does not necessarily exclude religion from having any role in political and social affairs. Secularization, however, is a process which does lead to exclusion. A practical consequence of secularization is the separation of state and religion.

The present FDRE Constitution states -religion is personal; every person has the right to follow any religion or belief of his/her choice provided that, he/she does not intervene in the religion of others and didn’t violate the ethics of the public.

By the fact that any activity undertaken by the government is in the name of the public, activities of the state directly or indirectly affects individual and social life of every citizen. To guarantee freedom of belief of citizens, the government should not involve itself into religious affairs. If government does interfere, it is treating part of its citizens differently. If the government discriminates between religions, it makes it suspicious citizens’ equality in the eye of the state.

Therefore, state and religion should be separated. The statement state and religion are different means religious affair is personal matter. The government except protecting and safeguarding freedom of religion, may not organize and support religious institutions, cannot open schools for preaching of religious values, and don’t give recognition for religious schools. Though there is law that prohibits them from being the follower of a given religion, by virtue of article 11 of the constitution, they can only practice their religious activities when they are outside of their public duty. As long as he/she is at work any representative of the people or public official should not favor any religion.

In some countries, though state and religion are different, they have national religion. For example, the state of Egypt isn’t Islamic state instead it is secular state. But, Islamic religion got state recognition. Meaning it is proclaimed that the religion of Egypt to be Islam. In the same manner, though England is not Christian state, instead being secular, evangelical church is proclaimed as national religion of England. When we see article 11 of the FDRE Constitution, state and religion are not only separate but also there is no by the name “religion of Ethiopia”. The state of Ethiopia has no relation with religion. A religion cannot be proclaimed as national or official religion because it is prohibited by article 11(2) to have state religion. Ethiopians have the right to follow and preach religion of their choice.

As a result of separation of state and religion, citizens’ freedom of religion is respected. In addition, letting religion to be free from the interference and intervention of the state, should get constitutional guarantee. After stating state and religion are different[1], there should not be state religion[2], if the state interferes the religious philosophies and intervene in to the spiritual activities of religious institutions, it is limiting and violating citizens’ freedom of belief. To remedy this article 11(3) states that state should not intervene in religious affairs.

As every freedom has its limit, to what extent is religion free from interference of the state? What if a religion claiming free from any kind of interference for example says, “Choose Mr. x, don’t choose Mr. y I will condemn you, you will be condemned if you implement regulation of the government etc…” can he/she/ it say that? Can it build a temple in any place of its choice? Being the father of a religion can he say that “I will not be governed by the laws of the state”?

A religious institution or follower is free from state interference as far as it/ he/ she has not violated the laws of the state and does not intervene in the secular activities of the state. By the fact that religion and state has different paths, there is no reason one will interfere in the affair of the other. Article 11(3) does not only prohibit the state from interfering in affairs of religion, but also prohibits religion from interfering in affairs of the state.

Public officials may be followers of a given religion but as we said that, their government position should be free from religious views and attitudes. The same holds true t followers and religious leaders. Though as a citizen they have the right to participate in the political activities and give their opinion, in doing so should not create religious pressure on the state.

[1] Id article 11(1)

[2] Id article 11(2)

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