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What is secularism?

Watch Andrew Copson explain the meaning of secularism, an often misunderstood term, and describe the aims of a secular state.
The political idea of secularism has three main aspects: firstly, there’s the conviction that religious institutions should be separate from state institutions; that mixing up the two is dangerous and can lead to persecution and oppression and also its alienating. It can lead citizens of a state who don’t belong to the state religion to feel they are not equal partners in the society in which they live. The second part of Secularism is achieving for each person the maximum possible freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief that can be achieved. So secularism as an approach is one that tries to maximise people’s freedom of belief.
Now of course, not everyone can be free to do exactly what they want at all times, it’s important to draw a limit around freedom of religion and, belief, for example when it starts interfering with other people’s rights and freedoms; but as far as possible secularists want to achieve the maximum freedom for people on these grounds. And the third aspect of secularism is the idea that there should equal treatment of people in a state, regardless of religion or belief.
So no one should have their employment opportunities or their education opportunities or their life in any social or economic sense restricted by the fact they adhere to any one particular way of looking at the world or another, or that they’ve turned away from one religion, or one particular way of looking at the world.
Those three aspects: separation of institutions, maximising freedom of conscience, equal treatment of all people; together make up the nuanced, quite rich political idea of secularism. There are many misconceptions about secularism. One is that it is somehow state atheism, that by separating religion and state it will lead to oppressing religious people. actually the opposite is true. Secular states are more likely to respect the rights of people of all religions and non-secular states are more likely to be oppressive of people of different or no religion from the religion of the state.

‘Secularism’ is a highly misunderstood term, often misused in the media. In this video Andrew Copson explains the meaning of secularism and the aims of a secular state.

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Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

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