Human being form organizations to work together to pursue common goals. Because people vary in their fundamental and religious beliefs, it is common for them to decide that their organization will be neutral with regard to religion; it will neither promote nor discriminate against the religious beliefs of those who are part of the organization; it will not be taken as founded on any particular religious belief; it will be ‘secular.’

You might think that this entails suppressing activities within the organization which are motivated by religious perspectives of its members. But this is a clear—if very common—logical error. An organization with suppresses the religiously-motivated activities of its members is not neutral at all with regard to religion. In fact the opposite; it is anti-religious. It discriminates against those whose behaviour it deems ‘religious.’ Behaviour founded on any other belief is fine. But behaviour founded on beliefs labeled as ‘religious’ is treated differently. (Labeling is the foundation of every form of discrimination.)

As reflected in the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretations of the American constitution, ‘religion’ and ’religious’ have narrow and a broad senses. In the narrow sense it involves belief in God or some other reality beyond nature—belief in something ‘supernatural.’ But in the broad sense it involves any set of fundamental beliefs that guide a person’s perspectives and life in much the way that belief in God guides theists’ perspectives and life. A materialistic naturalist—a person who believes that nothing exists beyond physical reality and the laws of nature governing it—is not ‘religious’ in the narrow sense but is certainly religious in the broad sense. In fact, everyone who has some broad view of what reality is like is religious in this sense; they have religious beliefs in the broad sense. Anyone who behaves in a way coherent with their fundamental beliefs is religious in the broad sense.

Unfortunately, people often have religion-in-the-narrow-sense in mind when they want to keep religion out of their organizations. But this means suppressing things founded upon beliefs in things beyond nature, but giving free reign to activities founded upon naturalistic beliefs. I.e., if you believe that all there is nature and act accordingly that’s fine within the organization. But if you believe in God and act accordingly, well, that’s not OK. This sets up a clearly biased and discriminatory situation. It discriminates against some sets of fundamental beliefs and in favour of others.

To be truly neutral with regard to religion, an organization must be neutral with regard to religion-in-the-broad-sense; it must be neutral with regard to its members’ fundamental life-guiding beliefs. But of course any behaviour of any person who behaves in a way coherent with their fundamental beliefs is religion-guided in this broad sense. It’s impossible to suppress behavior guided by people’s fundamental beliefs; all our behaviour is guided by our fundamental beliefs if it makes sense at all. So the only way to be truly neutral with regard to religion is to permitnot suppress—behaviour motivated by the fundamental beliefs of its members, not matter what those beliefs are.

Put another way, there are two types of secularity: coherent and incoherent. Incoherent ‘secularity’ suppresses behaviour within the organization which is guided by some fundamental beliefs but not others; it is not neutral with regard to religion; it is biased and discriminatory. Coherent secularity does not discriminate against the fundamental beliefs of its members, or the behaviour those beliefs motivate, regardless what those fundamental beliefs are.

-July 2017