Policies

London Declaration on Secularism

  • Date / 2017
  • Location Ratified / London, United Kingdom
  • Ratifying Body / General Assembly
  • Status / Current

Governments based on religion have been common in the history of human societies and are still common today. Witnessing the harmful social and political consequences of religious government, and valuing instead human dignity, human rights, democracy, freedom, and equality, we maintain that secularism is the best approach to politics and the ordering of states, and that it has proved itself to have greater potential for human freedom, happiness, and equality than all other political settlements in history.

When we speak of a jurisdiction being ‘secular’, we mean:

  1. The institutions of the state and the institutions of religions and other lifestances are separate from and independent of each other.
  2. The state does not discriminate against individuals or organisations solely on the basis of their religion or belief or lack thereof.
  3. All people, including children in line with their developing maturity, have the protected right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief up to the limits compatible with the human and civil rights and freedoms of others.

Secularism is wrongly traduced by some as entailing the dominance of non-religious lifestances or the oppression of religious minorities. Accepting our obligation to stand up against any such abuse of secularism, we maintain:

State secularism should guarantee freedom for all, including religious believers. Under a secular state, no one should be privileged nor disadvantaged on grounds of their religion or belief.

Secularism should ensure freedom of thought and expression. Criticism and open debate within between and towards religious and non-religious organisations is essential, especially for those who wish to leave a religion, change religious beliefs, or challenge or reform religious ideas. The ‘establishment’ of religion narrows the space for pluralism and stifles debate but secularism gives space for all and promotes open, honest discussion.

Secularism should be inclusive. A secular state recognises that people hold many different religious and nonreligious worldviews, and that the public institutions and services which are shared should remain impartial with regard to this plurality. This does not mean that the right to manifest belief becomes an unbounded ‘religious freedom’ with an implied right to enforce religious practices or to discriminate against others; freedom of religion or belief must always be moderated by the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism should ensure that all citizens are equal before the law.

We commit ourselves in all our work to uphold and promote the secular approach to the state and to build greater understanding of secularism’s principles and benefits.

We urge each of our member organizations and humanists worldwide to promote in their communities greater public understanding of what secularism is and of its benefits; to urge their governments to make greater progress towards secularism in the interests of all their citizens; and to join with humanists and others globally in defending and advancing secularism to the benefit of all humanity.

General Assembly, London, 2017

Suggested academic reference

'London Declaration on Secularism', Humanists International, General Assembly, London, United Kingdom, 2017

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