The pattern of secularism in modern Greece
The pattern of secularism in modern Greece has two core dimensions: (a) transformation of the church into a state authority and the resulting limitation of both its sphere of responsibility and its organisational capabilities, and (b) secularisation of the church’s ideology, i.e. appropriation of the secular state ideology by the church. In the narrow religious sphere, the church did not forfeit its dominant position. The latter was even strengthened by state protection. Critics of state-church relations in Greece tend to focus on the hegemonic position of the church, in order to establish lack of secularism. However, only by turning attention to the secular control over, and ideology of, the church, the state-church configuration in Greece can be recognised as a pattern of secularism in a modern nation state.
The hegemonic position of the church in Greece
The problem of secularism in Greece is often described as a problem of both incomplete differentiation between the political and religious spheres and curtailment of religious freedom. Much of the discussion involves the Greek constitution. In the eyes of some scholars it is the constitution, which allows and legitimates the strong public presence of the CoG [Church of Greece] and its officials in Greece (Lipowatz 1998). As far as religious freedom is concerned, the opinions of constitutional law experts vary. Whereas former minister Venizelos is of the opinion that the constitution guarantees the citizen freedom of religion and, thus, there is no need for a wide-ranging constitutional revision (cf. Venizelos 2000), others maintain that some constitutional articles allow for interpretations which result in a violation of the very religious freedom that the constitution is said to protect (cf. Alivizatos 1999, 2000; Sotirelis 1999).
As in almost all previous Greek constitutions, the preamble to the current constitution (since 1975) provides: ‘‘In the Name of the Holy, Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity.’’ The President (Art. 33, x 2) as well as the members of the parliament (Art. 59, x 1) have to take oath in the Name of the Holy Trinity, while provision for an alternative oath is made fordeputies of other faiths but not for the non-religious (Art. 59, x 2).The swearing-in ceremony of the President, the members of parliament, and even the government – for which there is no formal regulation – takes place in the presence of the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. The constitutional article according to which the religion of the ‘‘Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ’’ is the prevailing religion in the country (Art.3, x 1) is also a remnant of all previous constitutions. The article that grants freedom of religious belief (Art. 13) considers only ‘‘known’’ religions (x 2 and 3) and strictly forbids proselytising (x 2). Furthermore, the state commits itself in its educational mission to nurture the national and religious conscience of the Greek people (Art. 16, x 2). This commitment is the legal foundation for both the daily prayers in schools and the state’s assumption of the costs for theOrthodox tuition in Greek schools.
According to the constitutional law expert Nicos Alivizatos, the privileges of the CoG in the Greek state order derive from two different sources in Greek law: the legal status of the CoG as a public law entity and the prevailing religion clause in the Greek constitution. Referring to privileges deriving from the legal status as a public law entity like tax-exemption, remuneration by the state and execution of administrative acts, he remarks that they ‘‘do not in fact differ substantially from the advantages granted even to non-established churches by other European legal orders.’’ The most important privilege of the CoG deriving from the prevailing religion clause in the Greek constitution is Orthodox tuition in the Greek schools. He concludes thatalthough these privileges are generally more important and wider ranging than in other European models, they are not exceedingly so. . . . [I]n some respects Greece grants fewer privileges of this sort than countries such as Ireland and, more recently, Poland and Croatia, which have given the Roman Catholic Church a more important role on societal issues like abortion and divorce.
(Alivizatos 1999, pp. 27-28)Indeed, the individual constitutional articles and legal provisions are far from unique in an international comparison. The peculiarity of Greece lies in the ‘‘extent of the complex of regulations concerning the relations between church and state, and which as a whole is unique in Europe’’ (Fountedaki 2000, p. 660, italics in text; cf. Fountedaki 2002, p. 192).
The CoG is not the only religious institution to enjoy this legal status in Greece. The Central Israelite Council of Greece and its various communities are also public law entities, whereas the mufti authorities are state departments, and the muftis are upper-level public servants. It is the legal status of the direct competitors of the CoG (i.e. the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches) as well as other more or less ‘‘known’’ religions, which is often unclear and entails serious negative consequences affecting their work in Greece. Granted that the status of a religious institution as a public law entity involves not only privileges but also state control, the churches that do not enjoy this status are, in effect, no more free than the churches that enjoy it. Rather, they are hindered in doing their work. This brings us to a further source of the dominant position of the CoG in the country: the restriction of the religious freedom of non-Orthodox people due to certain legal provisions (cf. Alivizatos 1999, pp. 28-32) as well as political practices. Giorgos Sotirelis summarises the various forms of curbs upon religious freedom in Greece as violations of the following rights: (a) the right to free religious education, (b) the right to conceal one’s religious beliefs, (c) the right to disseminate religious beliefs, and (d) the right of freedom of worship. He adds that several other regulations and practices on the part of the secular and religious establishments contribute to a further aggravation of this situation (Sotirelis 1999, pp. 21-41).
Even if certain constitutional and legal provisions may seem neutral at first sight, in practice they prove to be protecting the CoG from its competitors. Although the prohibition of proselytism applies also to the CoG – in contrast to past legislation that prohibited proselytising only against the CoG – it is obvious that the latter is not affected by it as 97 % of the Greek population are at least nominally Orthodox. The prohibition to proselytise in conjunction with the engagement of the state in Orthodox education constitutes the main tool for regulating the Greek religious market in favour of the CoG. The way in which formally neutral regulations work as pillars of the CoG is unsheathed most obviously in the strict prohibition of conscientious objection for religious reasons in Greece up until quite recently. With the exception of members of the Greek Orthodox clergy, this prohibition has always applied to all male citizens, independently of their belief. In practice, however, conscientious objectors in Greece have been almost exclusively Jehovah’sWitnesses. Between the introduction of this regulation during the Greek civil war (1946-1949) and its relaxation in 1997 and 2001, two men were executed, five tortured to death, forty-two sentenced to death and another twenty-six condemned to serve a life sentence; a further sixty-eight were deported to camps and over three thousand were condemned to prison sentences of up to fourteen years (Beis 2001). Until 1997, ‘‘more than 100 persons per year were being sentenced by courtsmartial for insubordination because they refused to wear the uniform,’’ while over the last two decades of the last century ‘‘the average number of those permanently held in jail for this reason was approximately 300’’ (Alivizatos 1999, p. 31). Moreover, until 2001, conscientious objectors were in fact excluded from public service since their convictions for insubordination were entered in their criminal records. Thus there were serious disincentives for converting from Orthodoxy to the creed of the Jehovah’s Witness.
In sum, the Greek state regulates the religious market in Greece in a way which guarantees the hegemonic position to the CoG. This position is reflected in the ubiquity of Eastern Orthodoxy’s symbols in Greek everyday life. The omnipresence of Orthodoxy goes hand-in-hand with the almost total absence of symbols of other denominations or religions. Even so this state protectionism does not exclude secularism. As already indicated earlier, equating secularism with church-state separation or state neutrality assumes that modernity is necessarily connected to liberalism: the connection between the two is arbitrary, however.
* Evangelos Karagiannis,
“Secularism in Context: The Relations between the Greek State and the Church of Greece in Crisis” *
[«Η Κοσμικότητα στο Περιβάλλον της: Οι Σχέσεις μεταξύ του Ελληνικού Κράτους και της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος σε Κρίση»],
European Journal of Sociology,
Volume 50, Issue 01, April 2009,
pp./σσ. 145-148 [133 167].