Building: (Building D) Faculty of Law, Administration & Economics Floor: 2nd floor Room: 2.05
It is often assumed that liberal states should be neutral towards religion: they should not take sides and should treat all religions and all religious groups fairly, without supporting or hindering any of them. But what does it mean for the place of religion in public spaces or for the management of religious spaces by the state? This panel on the ethics of religion in public space focuses on two kinds of issues.
First, the claim to neutrality is particularly problematic when it comes to the public presence of religion: public spaces are shaped by specific contexts, by the cultural and religious heritage of each society. What we observe is the symbolic recognition of a religion by a state (or at least of its historical, cultural and social significance), rather than full neutrality towards religion. In European states, for instance, churches mark the center of cities whereas the places of worship of other religious groups are both rare and far from city centers; symbols of the majority religion are often publicly displayed, sometimes even in public buildings; religious references are found in numerous political symbols of the national identity (flags and national anthems); in some cases, a religious establishment is even officially recognized (for instance in constitutions). Even though such recognition of religion does not in itself entail unequal treatment, in some instances it might be considered as problematic merely because of the symbolic message that it sends. Does this symbolic religious establishment jeopardize the legitimacy of the liberal state, and if so, why?
Second, states also have to manage spaces that are considered by one or several religious groups as particularly significant for their religion. When a religious space is contested, i.e. when different religious groups claim access to or ownership of the same space, it is not obvious how it should be managed by the state: should access be regulated, and if so how? Should the sacred dimension of certain territories or places be recognized as such by the state, and if so what should this recognition entail?