In a joint event, Freedom and Identity in Central Europe (FICE), the Religious Freedom Institute, and Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center co-hosted a conference discussing the separation of church and state, which is a typical feature of modern democracies. The relationship between religion, the public square, and government is not always straightforward, however, and it can be challenging to get the balance right. This conference explored these challenges and considered the ways in which the state and religious institutions can coexist and interact in a manner that respects the rights and freedoms of all individuals and the non-governmental institutions of civil society.
In addition to addressing the challenges of right church-state relations, the conference also examined competing visions of the role of religion in public life, from Europe’s highly diverse landscape to the dynamism of America’s religious landscape. Speakers discussed the various ways in which different countries have approached the balance between religion and the state and considered the implications of these approaches for the protection of individual rights and freedoms.
The conference brought together experts from a range of disciplines to discuss the intersection of politics and religion with a focus on Western democracies. After an opening by Lilla Nóra Kiss, co-founder of FICE and visiting scholar at George Mason University, Gregory S. Baylor (Senior Counsel, Director, Center for Religious Schools, Alliance Defending Freedom), John Wesley Reid (Editor-In-Chief, Standing for Freedom Center, Liberty University), and Nathaniel Hurd (Director, North America Action Team, Religious Freedom Institute) held a panel on the separation of church and state in the USA, moderated by Arielle Del Turco (Assistant Director, Center for Religious Liberty, Family Research Council). Their conversation centered on secularism and ideology- and their implications on religious freedom-, the First Amendment, and the uses of the “wall of separation” metaphor. After the first panel, Mark David Hall (Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics and Faculty Fellow in the Honors Program, George Fox University) held his remarks including the presentation on his new book titled “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land: How Christianity Has Advanced Freedom and Equality for All Americans”.
Putting an international lens on the topic, the second panel focused on Europe and Eurasia, moderated by Szabolcs Nagypál (Head of Law School, Mathias Corvinus Collegium, Hungary). Paul Marshall (Director, South and Southeast Asia Action Team, Religious Freedom Institute), together with Márton Sulyok (Head of Public Law Center, Mathias Corvinus Collegium) and Mónika Palotai (Visiting Fellow, Hudson Institute, Member, FICE) discussed how religion, identity, and constitutions interplay in the region.
Márton Sulyok delved into the case study of Hungary, explaining how Christianity shaped Hungarian nationhood. The role of St. Stephen influenced both religious and state institutions in Hungary. He argued that religion is a significant cultural factor in terms of how people view the constitutional concept of a nation. It is important to distinguish between privately exercised rights and publicly “worn” identities.
“Individual religious rights and convictions are elements of individual identity, but are also inseparably correlated with the publicly avowed (national) identity, which is a collective identity.” – Márton Sulyok
Drawing from her knowledge and recent trip to Ukraine, Mónika Palotai discussed the separation of church and state in the nation, beginning with the new legal measures announced by President Zelensky in 2022 to ensure the “spiritual independence” of Ukraine by limiting the operations of religious organizations tied to Russia, due in part to conflicts between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – that has historically belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate – and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Because Ukraine is a predominantly Orthodox Christian nation, religion is closely tied to Ukraine’s national and political life. The struggles between the separation of church and state and the tensions between the Orthodox churches are only heightened by the current Russian invasion.
Closing remarks were delivered by Mark Tooley (President, Institute on Religion and Democracy) wrapped up the conference.
See the videos of the conference on our Youtube channel.