Secular liberalism is a form of liberalism in which secularist principles and values, and sometimes non-religious ethics, are especially emphasised. It supports the separation of religion and state. Moreover, secular liberals are usually advocates of liberal democracy and the open society as models for organising stable and peaceful societies.

Secular liberalism stands at the other end of the political spectrum from religious authoritarianism, as seen in theocratic states and illiberal democracies. It is often associated with stances in favour of social equality and political freedom.[1][2]


Being secularists by definition, secular liberals tends to favour secular states over theocracies or states with a state religion. Secular liberals advocate separation of church and state in the formal constitutional and legal sense.[3] Secular liberal views typically see religious ideas about society, and religious arguments from authority drawn from various sacred texts, as having no special status, authority, or purchase in social, political, or ethical debates.[1] It is common for secular liberals to advocate the teaching of religion as a historical and cultural phenomenon, and to oppose religious indoctrination or lessons which promote religion as fact in schools.[2][3] Among those who have been labelled as secular liberals are prominent atheists like Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Sam Harris.[2]

The label of "secular liberal" can sometimes be confusing as to what it refers to. While the term secular can sometimes be used as an adjective for atheists and non-religious people, chiefly in American usage, in British English it is more likely to refer to people who are secularists, which is to say, people who believe in keeping religion and government apart. The atheist writer Richard Dawkins can be categorised under both definitions, while the British Muslim liberal commentator Maajid Nawaz and liberal Christians who advocate secularism, like Ed Davey and Barack Obama, only meet the latter.

In a modern democratic society, a plurality of conflicting doctrines share an uneasy co-existence within the framework of civilization.

Contemporary application

Arab Spring

Secular liberalism is sometimes connected with the Arab Spring protests. One commentator labels it as a "secular liberal fantasy".[4] Others have labeled the motivations behind it, and the temporary governments created as a result as secular liberalism. [5][6][7]

Oftentimes, participation in the newly crowned democratic governments by the Muslim clerics are ignored in favor of the protesters' secular liberal ideas. Since 2011, more residents of the Middle East have been demanding a greater say in the running of their governments. They want democracy to appear in a uniquely Muslim fashion rather than through some artificial "secular" movement.[8]


The Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate are waging a common fight against secular liberalism; claiming that this idea violates the traditional Christian concepts of family and human values by exposing people to medico-biological experiments that are incompatible with their ideas of human dignity.[9] The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed concern over trends in some Protestant communities towards secularizing, liberalizing and modernizing theology and Christian morals; he claims them to be products of secular liberalism.[9]

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, offering freedom of speech, has been criticized in a 2004 political manifesto by David Fergusson entitled Church, state and civil society.

See also


  1. ^ a b Rod Dreher (6 April 2011). "Secular Liberalism as Consensus". Real Clear Politics. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "Secular liberalism misunderstood". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  3. ^ a b Hobson, Theo (29 April 2010). "Clegg should assert secular liberalism". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  4. ^ Jonathan Jones (9 December 2011). "Tahrir Square aflame: the visual basis of an imaginary revolution". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  5. ^ Bradley, John (2012). After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts. ISBN 978-0-230-33819-7.
  6. ^ John M. Owen IV (6 January 2012). "Why Islamism is Winning". New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  7. ^ Khan, Razib (2012). "Secular liberals the tip of the Islamist spear". Discover Magazine. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  8. ^ Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett (11 February 2014). "America and the Middle East: It's Déjà Vu All Over Again". Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  9. ^ a b "Moscow Patriarchate, Vatican wage common fight against secular liberalism - Patriarch Kirill". Interfax-Religion. Retrieved 2011-06-09.