On Secularism and Constitutionalism:
The Threat of Militancy
and the Quest for Accommodation
Ioannis A. Tassopoulos
Associate Professor, University of Athens (LL.B. University of Athens, 1986;
LL.M. Duke University, 1987; S.J.D. Duke University, 1989)
The article argues that the challenge to constitutionalism does not come from secularism or religion per se, but rather from the militant character that they may take. Militancy’s belligerent approach and excessive aggressiveness tend to undermine the peaceful (though not necessarily harmonious) coexistence between people of different (religious, political or philosophical) creeds. Militancy may become a feature not only of the state, but of a social group as well. Equally serious challenges to constitutionalism may have their source in claims of religious persons regarding the accommodation of practices that they are conscientiously obligated to respect. However, multiculturalism and diversity cannot justify the communal collapse of the distinction between the private, the social and the public spheres. Extreme, so to speak, practices that are in deep conflict with equality between men and women, such as the wearing of burkha (but not the wearing of the scarf) may legitimately be prohibited from schools for the sake of the elementary teaching of the values of democratic citizenship and civic equality between autonomous persons.