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In political terms secularism is usually described as the view that religion and

government are responsible for performing different roles in society and that these
roles should remain separate. This is often interpreted to mean that religion should be
treated as a matter of personal conscience and that governments should not
unreasonably interfere in the activities and beliefs of religious individuals and groups,
promote the interests of one religious group or individual over those of any other, or
promote religion over irreligion. A secular nation, therefore, is one in which there is a
“separation of church and state”, a term coined by the American president Thomas
Jefferson to explain the intended effect of the first amendment of the Constitution of
the United States of America, which dictates that “congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
While this law originally applied only to America’s federal government the passing of
the fourteenth amendment in 1868 expanded its power to all levels of government in
the United States. It has since served as the model for secularism in other countries.
The question of exactly where the ability of government to regulate the behaviour of
religious individuals and groups should end has long been a matter of debate, and
controversies such as the recent banning of Muslim headscarves in French schools
have raised the question of whether secularism can guarantee religious freedom. This
essay will argue that religious freedom is possible in a secular nation.