At the meeting of the General Assembly of the International Humanist & Ethical Union, held at Paris on 8th July 2005, to coincide with the 16th World Humanist Congress, the Indian Humanist Union tabled a resolution on “Comprehensive Secularism”. After detailed discussions and taking into account the varying social and terminological backgrounds in different countries, the resolution was passed unanimously.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union, taking into account the currently emerging situation world-wide, resolves that the Humanist movement must make renewed efforts to support comprehensive secularism in all countries, in the sense of separation of religion from state institutions, complete impartiality on the part of the State in its attitude and actions towards different religions and belief systems, and the right and the responsibility of the State to intervene to protect human rights from gross violation, even if based on religious doctrine or enshrined in religiously based civil law. The State must protect the individual’s right to leave his or her community without the fear of violence or severe reprisal.
It will be noted that the above resolution enunciates two principles constituting “Secularism” i.e. separation of religion from State institutions and complete impartiality on the part of the State as between different religions and belief systems. It also adds a third principle which makes for “Comprehensive Secularism” i.e. the right of the State to intervene when there is gross violation of human rights. In view of the fact that the IHEU is the umbrella organization for over a hundred Humanist, Rationalist, Freethought and Atheist associations, this Resolution is of significance both in ideological and in practical terms. It also assumes considerable relevance in the background of recent fatwas in various countries which involve gross violation of human rights, as well as in the light of the ongoing debate in the media regarding the general question of the role of the State in relation to ‘parallel’, religion based ‘civil laws’.