Archbishop of Canterbury commends secularity to faith communities
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has recommended the model of the neutral, secular state as a level playing field for the civic interests of Muslims, Christians and other religious communities - alongside non-believers.
He also commended the separation of church and state and affirmed democratic, political pluralism as the best way of guaranteeing fairness and a proper voice for all.
Dr Williams drew a distinction between a secularity that seeks to create 'a culture of question and negotiation' among different communities, and a 'dominant secularism' which denies any legitimate role for religion as a component of some people's public identity.
The spiritual head of the world's 70 million Anglicans was speaking in Lyons at an international meeting of prayer for peace - where the Roman Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has also upheld the principle of ëspiritual humanism' in societies composed of people of many faiths and none.
Dr Williams suggested that a European secular state with communities of faith as its critical partners was truest to the continent's Christian roots.
His tenor was far more open and accommodating than that of Pope Benedict XVI, who has called for the re-Christianizing of Europe.
The Archbishop declared: 'Once you have recognised the distinction between the church and any particular political system, you declare that political systems do not have automatic religious sanction, and thus that political liberty, plural convictions and practices, are to be expected in public life, and need balancing and negotiating.'
But Dr Williams also said that secularity required a 'continuing dialogue with the religious community', because 'liberal identity is threatened if it does not have, or is unaware of, that perpetual partner which reminds it that it is under a higher judgement.'
Addressing Muslims, with whom the Archbishop has sought active partnership, he said: 'Islamic political thought seems to have no obvious place for the kind of separation of powers that has been seen as the consequence of Christian theology.'
But he went on to suggest that the growing Muslim presence in Europe created an opportunity for a reconsideration of these issues, and for creative conversation about them.