Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Barry and Kukathas as Inspiring Sources for a Fair Church-State System in Belgium

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Barry and Kukathas as Inspiring Sources for a Fair Church-State System in Belgium

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this article, we will look at the political philosophical theories of Brian Barry (Culture and Equality, 2001) and Chandran Kukathas (The Liberal Archipelago, 2003) and see which consequences both theories have for the Belgian model of church and state. For both authors, the liberal state should be neutral toward religion but they interpret this neutrality in a different way. According to Kukathas, neutrality implies a hands-off policy and therefore, recognizing and financing religions is out of the question. For Barry on the other hand, the state is neutral if equal people have equal opportunities. Consequently, state support for religions and even the recognition of religions is possible, if religions are treated in the same way. However, a hands-off policy is also in line with Barry's theory. Both from a pragmatic and from a normative point of view, Barry's egalitarian liberalism seems the most interesting theory as an inspiring source for the evolvement and modification of the Belgian system, towards more fairness and equality.

Key Words: Barry, Kukathas, egalitarian liberalism, libertarianism, recognized religions, religious education, church and state policy, Belgium, equality, neutrality


In this article, we will apply egalitarian liberalism and libertarianism to the church and state relations in Belgium and we will look at the consequences of both theories for the actual Belgian system. We have chosen for Brian Barry1 and Chandran Kukathas2 because they give much attention - much more than their predecessors (respectively Rawls / Dworkin and Nozick) have done - to the consequences of their liberal theory for diverse cultures and religions. Both authors are of interest because they can be seen as opposites within liberal theory, in particular when they are talking about the role of political government. Undoubtedly, this will also lead to different opinions about the legitimacy of church and state relations.

In a first part of this article, we will elaborate the Belgian church and state relations. Next, both positions of Barry and Kukathas will be explored. In another part, we will see how these positions would deal with the Belgian system where some religions get recognition and active state support. Finally, we will evaluate both theories and see how they could be used within the discussion about the Belgian church and state regime. A verification of the Belgian system to both opposite political philosophical theories may be helpful to chose a position concerning the future Belgian state and church policy. We will conclude with both pragmatic and normative reasons in favour of Barry's theory over Kukathas', for Barry's theory could at least give the opportunity to make the Belgian system fairer, without losing sight of the very specific, historical context.

Church and State in Belgium

In Belgium, the separation between church and state is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. The Belgian church and state regime is not characterized by separationism or by radical and assertive secularism3, but by moderate secularism4, favourable neutrality5 or accomodationism6. The Belgian state has not chosen for a hands-off policy, but for an "actively supported religious pluralism, that results in an effective benefit of the freedom of religious worship".7

The Belgian church and state regime is clearly the product of Belgian history. Since 1825, both liberals and Catholics opposed the protestant King Willem I's meddlesome policy on the subject of religion and education. A monstrous alliance between both parties has led to the Belgian independence in 1830 and formed the basis for one of the most liberal constitutions of that time: in this constitution, freedom of religion, organization and education is explicitly mentioned. In addition, this constitution of 1831 formed the basis for an active support of religion, which was, in that period, almost only Catholicism. …

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