I have argued that when the choice is between mono-recognition and diachronic plural recognition, there are strong reasons for favoring the latter. In particular, I argued that diachronic plural recognition is fairer than mono-recognition by not giving any religion a monopoly upon constitutional recognition. At the same time, I suggested that because religions tend to have unequal claims to constitutional recognition, diachronic plural recognition is fairer than synchronic plural recognition by allowing religions with stronger claims to receive more recognition-time than religions with weaker claims. The main point that I want to make in this section and the next is that, within many multi-religious societies, there are also strong reasons for favoring diachronic plural recognition over a system whereby no religion is constitutionally recognized – call this ‘non-recognition of any religion’ for short. Along the way, several additional reasons will be identified for favoring diachronic plural recognition over synchronic plural recognition.
Protection from Radical Secularism and Religious Extremism
Two pro-establishment arguments have been proposed recently by David Miller. Focusing upon mono-recognition, Miller (2019) believes that religious establishment should come with duties for established religions to give religion in general a voice in public debates and to protect it against the forces of “radical secularism”, which are understood to be manifested in e.g. head scarf-bans in public buildings. When such duties are performed, he thinks that believers of all stripes benefit from the presence of an established religion, including members of (vulnerable) religious groups whose religion is not constitutionally recognized.
In fact, Miller’s view is that even agnostics and atheists draw net benefits from this kind of ecumenical establishment as he goes on to suggest that it has a moderating influence upon established religions. The idea here is that when established religions are expected to represent the interests of, and collaborate with, other religions – he gives the example of how the Church of England is expected to engage in inter-faith dialogue and to involve members of other religions in official events such as parliamentary inaugurations and state funerals – they are disincentivized from espousing extreme views as to do so would compromise their ability to fulfil these tasks. According to Miller, this in turn has the effect that
The public voice of an established church is likely to be moderate, ecumenical, and closer in substance to secular discourse. You don’t find spokespersons for these churches arguing that evolution is nonsense or that Jews must seize the whole of Jerusalem to hasten the second coming of Christ. A rational atheist, therefore, must weigh the comparative advantages and disadvantages of establishment and disestablishment, on the assumption that the latter won’t mean the end of religion itself or its disappearance from the public sphere (Miller 2019).
What is apposite for us is that if it is true that Miller’s ecumenical establishment helps to protect religious interests from radical secularism and to prevent extremism within the ranks of established religions, then given that these effects appear to be valuable, this would provide reasons for favoring this type of establishment over non-recognition of any religion. However, since an investigation into these ostensible effects is well beyond this article’s scope, I should note that whilst my case for diachronic plural recognition would be strengthened by their existence, it does not depend upon their existence as I will provide independent arguments for diachronic plural recognition within the next section.
Now Miller himself is doubtful as to whether plural recognition can fulfil the ecumenical functions just mentioned and, consequently, have the instrumental benefits under consideration.
The idea of establishment involves recognising the church's special authority to speak on religious matters, but also […] giving it the responsibility to serve all citizens in an inclusive way. It's unclear how this could be done in the case of more than one institution (Miller 2019).
Some might disagree with the notion that only a single religion can fulfil this inclusive role. Even if there are limits to how many religions can fulfil it, they may argue that it is possible for two or three religions to do so and possibly even more. What I want to suggest here is that even if this is mistaken, this merely shows that synchronic plural recognition is unfit for purpose, not diachronic plural recognition. The reason for this is that at no point in time would more than one religion be constitutionally recognized under the proposed diachronic variant.
Admittedly, state religions will be able to discharge the abovementioned ecumenical functions only if they are constitutionally recognized for a meaningful amount of time – for them to be recognized for a mere hour, say, will be of little use. Whilst a discussion of precisely how much recognition-time is needed would take us too far afield as it would require us, inter alia, to specify in more detail what these functions involve (which Miller does not do in his article), what matters for us is a point that I made in the penultimate section, namely that such thresholds can be built into a system of diachronic plural recognition. One way of doing so is to exclusively recognize religions with strong enough claims to constitutional recognition to be entitled to the requisite amount of recognition-time based on their population size, their members’ societal contributions, and any injustices that their members have suffered at the hands of the state and/or the wider society. Another approach is to recognize some religions for longer periods than is warranted based on the strength of their claims to constitutional recognition so that they are recognized for the requisite duration. Although such an approach is unfair in some respects as it discounts other religions’ claims to constitutional recognition to a certain degree, it should be noted that refusing constitutional recognition to religions that have some claim to such recognition but not one that is strong enough to entitle them to the requisite amount of recognition-time is also unfair in certain respects as it means that the claims of these religions do not translate into any recognition-time. At least when religions are not too far removed from the threshold, then, it might be argued that it is morally permissible if not required for states to constitutionally recognize them for the requisite duration.
Having looked at two potential benefits of religious establishment, namely the provision of protection against radical secularism and the provision of protection against religious extremism, I now want to suggest that there are communicative reasons for favoring diachronic plural recognition specifically over non-recognition of any religion when there are religious groups within society that are marginalized in that their members suffer significantly higher levels of discrimination and hostility than the members of other religious and non-religious groups. To focus attention, consider the following expressions of anti-Islamic sentiments and violence that have occurred in Germany over the past years:
In the East-German city of Dresden, demonstrations of anti-Islam movement Pegida attracted 10,000 s of people during the mid-2010s (BBC 2015).
In 2017 alone, 950 violent attacks were committed against Muslims and against Islamic institutions such as mosques according to statistics from the Department of Interior (Zeit Online 2018).
More recently, a far-right extremist killed nine people in two shisha-bars in the West-German city of Hanau, an attack that is widely believed to have been motivated by Islamophobic motives (Deutsche Welle 2020).
In an interview with the German tabloid Bild in 2018, interior minister Horst Seehofer stated that “Islam does not belong to Germany” (Süddeutsche Zeitung 2018).
Anti-immigrant and anti-Islam party Alternative Für Deutschland [Alternative for Germany] is currently the largest opposition party in the national parliament with 12,8% of the seats. In 2019, the AFD won 27% of the votes in local elections in Saxony where it finished second just behind the Christian-Democrats (CDU).
Further evidence of the vulnerable position of Muslims within German society is provided by studies into labor market discrimination against this group. For example, in a recent study (Weichselbaumer 2020), 1474 resumes were sent to German firms that were identical except for the fact that some had the native German name ‘Sandra Bauer’ on them; some the Turkish name ‘Meryem Öztürk’ but with the same picture as the Sandra Bauer-resumes (in Germany, resumes tend to have pictures); and some the name ‘Meryem Öztürk’ with again the same picture except for the fact that the woman shown on it wore a headscarf this time. The findings were that whilst Sandra Bauer was invited for an interview in 18.8% of cases, Meryem Öztürk without a headscarf received an invitation in 13.5% of cases and Meryem Öztürk with a headscarf did so in only 4.2% of cases.
Against this socio-political background, there can be little doubt that for Germany to recognize Islam as the sole state religion for certain periods would send a powerful message that this religion belongs to society and, implied by this, its members. This is true at least when each time a new religion is constitutionally recognized under a system of diachronic plural recognition, the state informs the public of this as I assume here it should. Ways of doing so might include, but are not limited to, announcing the new state religion on social media and on public broadcasters; allowing its leaders to play a ceremonial role in state events such as parliamentary inaugurations and state funerals; and displaying its symbols in parliament in the same way that a Christian crucifix is displayed in Quebec’s National Assembly.
Why is it important for states to signal the civic inclusion of marginalized religious groups? One reason is that because of the symbolic value that many people attach to the state’s actions and inactions, not doing so can easily aggravate discrimination and hostility against their members by making such discrimination and hostility seem legitimate (cf. Waldron 2014). This is the case when the state’s unwillingness to send such signals is widely interpreted as reflecting prejudice against these individuals or as expressing simple indifference towards their fate. However, even when no such prejudice or indifference is perceived in such omissions, the fact that the state’s speech is imbued with symbolic significance means that for governments to publicly affirm the civic inclusion of marginalized religious groups still has the potential to reduce discrimination and hostility against their members by shaping public attitudes (for more about the impact of state speech upon public attitudes and about the importance of the state’s role as a propagator of liberal-democratic values, see Brettschneider 2012).
Of course, constitutionally recognizing the religions of marginalized religious groups is not the only way in which states might communicate that these groups belong to society. Other ways of doing so include e.g. speaking out against any unlawful discrimination and violence suffered by their members and imposing strict penalties upon those who are found guilty of such discrimination and violence. In the next section, I will address the objection that my case for diachronic plural recognition is underdetermined; for now, I want to suggest another reason why it is important that states signal the civic inclusion of marginalized religious groups.
According to this reason, sending such signals also matters because it provides their members with assurances that the authorities are on their side and that they are regarded by those in power as full and equal citizens. Having such assurances is not just valuable because it may offer peace of mind, though this is a significant benefit. As Adam Omar Hosein (2018) has pointed out, it also helps people to take advantage of their legal rights, especially those that involve direct interaction with government officials. For example, studies from the United States have found that individuals who lack trust in state institutions – as is common among black people within this country as well as among those with Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian backgrounds – are less likely to report crimes that were committed against them than individuals who do have such trust (Huq et al. 2011; Tyler 2005). (Of course, being assured of the state’s commitment to upholding one’s rights and liberties will be valuable only if the state actually has this commitment as I assume here it does. When this is not the case, for citizens to believe that they can count upon the state’s protection and support when they cannot is not only problematic because of the deception involved, but also because they might end up in dangerous situations as when they wrongly expect law-enforcers to protect them from physical assault.)