The compatibility of an established church system

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  Introduction This essay will look to analyse the compatibility of an established church system alongside democracy in the 21st Century. Oliva notes that the “whole debate about establishment has concentrated on the English situation”[1] and the position and role of religious figures and bodies such as bishops and the Church of England (CofE) will form the basis of analysis for this essay. In order to assess this, the definitions and traits of an established church system will be explored first. Establishment The question arises as to what exactly a church establishment is. Establishment is a point of contention within the legal framework as there is “there is no single definition of establishment”.[2] However, commentators and the judiciary alike have attempted to define establishment. Firstly, Ogilvie notes that an established church “is recognised by the State as the truest expression of the Christian faith”[3] which the state has a legal duty to protect.[4] This definition reflects the unique position of an established church in a state due to the importance and the acceptance of the church by the state. Furthermore, for the Australian judiciary, establishment has at least four definitions[5] and “the most commonly used definition” [6] concerns conferring the status of a state church on a religious body.[7] In the United Kingdom (UK), there are two churches established by law; the CofE and the Church of Scotland (CofS).[8] The CofE possesses “certain important links with the state”[9] yet is not regarded as a department of state as the Church has its own religious objectives which are not the same objectives of the government.[10] However, such a statement is debateable considering the presence of bishops in the House of Lords (HOL). Furthermore, establishment is further split into two types in England; high establishment and low establishment.[11] High establishment is concerned with the presence of religious figures in the constitution[12] and low establishment is concerned with the presence of the CofE in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.[13] With this distinction in mind, the prevalence of the CofE and state churches within a democracy will be discussed in order to assess their compatibility. The CofE This section will consider the role of the CofE in the terms of high establishment[14]and assess whether it has relevance in modern democracy. The CofE has been described as being “autonomous”[15] and this raises the question in regards to its current day relationship with the state and society in general. It has also been described as having once been “an equal partner with the state”[16] but its present place within the constitution has been called into question.[17] Based on the above, there seems to be valid calls for the disestablishment of a CofE due to its declining relevance and subsequent low impact on society. The reasoning behind this thought is due to the changing religious demographic of the British public and the decline in active membership of the CofE.[18] It has been noted that there are roughly one million Muslims in the UK[19] alongside “substantial Hindu and Sikh”[20] populations.

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