President of Secular Institute of Contemporary Studies of Argentina
Life offers a number of pleasant situations. One of those situations was to prepare a contribution
for a high quality Congress such as the one we are attending.
There are some difficulties, and the first attempt should be sufficient as well as used also as a
stimulus for the listener-reader who wants to go further into the developed themes. That implies at
least a high level of synthesis and in fact clarity in the presentation.
After having set the problematics, I am going to get down to the task.
A priori, it must be understood that secularism is not a purely theoretical issue, more or less
abstract, or even outdated. Quite the contrary, secularism is an eminently political notion, in full
strength and with an enormous social content.
Secularism seeks to reach different aims, although they are all related to the leading principle
which comes from its origin: the free thought. We can assert undoubtedly that the free thought is
the genus and secularism is the species. In the beginning, it is necessary to understand that
advanced thinking is what differentiates Man from any other animal species; we can see the
enormous importance of what thinking means, notably scientific thinking, sufficiently self-employed
compared with different forms of suggestion to reasoning.
This independence of thinking, of course, is relative to human (social, cultural, health, age, etc.)
condition and therefore it is not absolute, but that relativity should not and could not be regarded as
decisive, perpetual and immutable. Consciously or unconsciously, sooner or later, the human
being seeks though different paths to free his/her reflections and thoughts from the influence of
his/her conditions which would deprive the sensible foundations of his/her decisions. And through
this quest and the struggle it creates, history has also been made…
Then, secularism comes to light as a political necessity for societies seeking to develop while
respecting their members’ free thought as well as to allow that they spend their lives in a climate of
freedom and equality. This principle of secularism includes the principle which provides that Law
rules societies and seeks to make all members equal before it.
The secularist (a Greek word meaning the ordinary man among the people) assures that
secularism, as a political principle, means an inclusive society in which no one should be excluded
neither from top nor from bottom in relation to others regarding legal standards. As it is not
sufficient, it is also provided that those standards should be based on freedom, equality and social
inclusion. Thus it seeks that societies enrich themselves through their homogeneity but also
through their diversity and that it exalts the lives of all. Certainly, those differences, in order not to
destroy all types of societies in confrontations, should be harmonised by basic values: tolerance
and fraternity between human beings.
Then, secularism is also man’s concrete attempt to form societies which admit differences between
their members, albeit concerted, through appropriate regulation, in acceptance of individual,
cultural, gender, racial and so on.. differences.
So that secularism be able to achieve it equalitarian goals, as I said before, it is necessary that
thinking, in order to be free, should be stripped of the limiting or paralysing conditions. That raises
the question of dogmas which through their own definition and on a scientific ground are quite
static and immutable, preventing thus any change and social progress.
Dogmas could be valid in terms of religious and individual beliefs but they should not be accepted
at a scientific as well as legal level as they risk nullifying any idea of progress and social change. It
is because it is not possible to admit that, in Savater’s words, religious or dogmatic rights become
social requirements. One could wonder then what would happen if the Ten Commandments (or
similar religious standards in fundamentalist countries) were included in the positive law of the
Through secularism, the attempt is to make everyone exercises the belief of their choice, but with a
distinctive feature that this right implies correlatively the right to have no belief.
And what is the role of the State as a political and judicial representative of its people concerning
religions? Nothing more and nothing less than respect and conform to the law in general, without
anyone being privileged in particular, and act with sufficient independence so as to assure that no
one is affected with dogmatic condition or exclusion.
As a consequence, among other reasons, education should be secular, in order to prevent a
creation of scientific thought containing dogmatic leftovers that were taught at the time of
compulsory school attendance, even if it was taught for some other purposes. Do not forget that in
science, everything is provisional and submitted to current tests and examination.
Secularism does not seek confrontation with religion as fat as it is immersed in one’s personal and
even social field, but without pretending generating dogmatic constraints toward the States and all
their inhabitants. That should not occur if the States adopt a respectful attitude of impartiality
toward those cultural and social phenomenon that religions are. That neutrality means that all
religions are on an equal footing and in conformity with regulations, they will have all opportunities
to develop and the faithful will have all the rights to conform to their religious demands and
precepts. And one could say, without being a mere play upon words, that the State should protect
the faith, but that faith cannot and must not make the laws.
But secularism is not limited to its relationship with religion and education as it is often said. Its
scope is much larger and we can see that in matters of public health or private, social and
everyday life, problematics cannot be addressed from a dogmatic religious angle but instead
through interdisciplinary analysis and surveys.
It is clearly asserted that the struggle against AIDS, family planning concerns, cloning, abortion, the
right to die, responsible paternity, children without parents, are matters that should not be debated
with closed dogmatic religious concepts which would only exacerbate the emerging problems.
It is also possible to assert -like the Secularist Action Centre [Centre d’Action Laïque] from
Belgium- that secularism derives from the free thought and its goal is not only intellectual
emancipation. Its purpose also implies a clear social and political emancipation, which in turn
should cause as a result intellectual emancipation. Everything is related.
Poverty and marginalisation are direct causes of social exclusion of important sections of the
population, not only though economic weakness which isolates from consumption, social life and
negotiable interests, but also because in many cases, it generates behavioural and psychological
troubles which add further segregation. Secularism, as a deeply integrating ideology, is absolutely
contrary to political agendas that generate inequalities and it implies a collective struggle to
Finally, in a nutshell, I would like to add ten secular measures to this presentation:
- That, as we have often reasserted, secularism should not be presented neither aggressively nor as an enemy of religion, because it means that social and cultural facts deserve our respect in legal limitation which should be coherent;;
- That all religions, on an equal footing, are also a phenomena that has nothing to do with State affairs, because they deal with the faithful’s private area, which should be protected by the Law, as long as they do not overstep the limitations established in every State’s positive law;
- That the right to worship, if it is not contrary to public order and State regulations, should be as complete as the right not to believe in any religion;
- That secularism, as a political concept, seeks complete integration of the people of each State, without any kind of distinction, to live in tolerance and harmony, enriching society of their differences;
- That secularism has always supported the absolute respect of the free thought as the basis for the acceptance of other people’s opinions, and eventually democracy as a life style;
- That secularism, far from being an aggressive enemy is a basic value for complete integration of people, assuring non-discrimination on a racial, sexual, economic, gender or religious base;
- That in any State, whenever each individual’s personal religious values are confused with political and juridical principles of society, it is the beginning of the violation of the citizens’ individual rights;
- A secularised religion is necessary, according to Fernando Savater’s words, that is incompatible with a fundamentalist vision which seeks to transform some people’s own dogmas into social obligations for others;
- That religious beliefs are accepted by society as being a right for those who worship, but not as duties to be imposed on others;
- That the State, as legal and political representative of all inhabitants, should maintain a neutral and tolerant attitude toward all religions, placing them on a same footing and without any privilege to any in particular. It is the way to safeguard equality, harmony, social peace and democracy.
Lastly, many thanks to the Congress and its conveners for the occasion to express those concepts,
and also my gratitude to the Latin Institute of Contemporary Studies of Argentina and to its Second
Level unit, the Federation of Secular Institutions of America (FILA) which have generously
honoured me with their chairmanship.