Does the term separation of church and state also apply in non-Christian countries, for example Egypt? Can we say separation of mosque and state? Is there a generic, politically correct alternative that works for any country?

  • 2
    Conversely, does "Christian country" really apply to any country that has separation of Church and State? ;)
    – Jon Hanna
    Aug 1, 2012 at 23:09

11 Answers 11


You can replace church with religion, and say “separation of religion and state”.

The word church in “separation of church and state” is not referring to the building used for Christian worship, or to a Christian organization, though. It is used to mean “an institutionalized religion as a political or social force”. In this sense, it is more specific than religion, but it is also more generic than church used in reference to Christianity.

  • 2
    I think the difficulty with "church" is not that it can have the meaning you describe, but that the OP is trying to avoid a term that would be politically incorrect to use when discussing a Muslim country. Muslims tend to view "church" as a Christian term.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 28, 2011 at 19:59
  • That is why I suggested separation of religion and state, even though church, in English, has a more specific meaning. I would use religion if I want to use any ambiguity, but the meaning of an English word is not the one that non native speakers of English give to the word.
    – apaderno
    Nov 28, 2011 at 20:09
  • @kiamlaluno: Arguably, it is supposed to mean a religious organization. That (and the fact that the phrase appears in no document with any legislative weight) is the center of much of the controversy in America.
    – Ben Voigt
    Nov 29, 2011 at 3:27

“In political terms, secularism is a movement towards the separation of religion and government (often termed the separation of church and state).” —Wikipedia

  • 10
    Since the OP did ask about political correctness: many religious people who simultaneously believe in religion-informed government policies and religious freedom probably find the word secularism more threatening than the phrase "separation of church and state". In other words, you don't often hear liberal US politicians advocating secularism, though you do sometimes hear conservatives casting it as a dangerous trend.
    – Cascabel
    Nov 28, 2011 at 22:53
  • 8
    Political correctness is about avoiding language which offends, not about avoiding controversial topics (topics about which people disagree). Yes, the idea of a secular government is controversial in some religious camps. But it's not language which offends. On the other hand, referring to mosques as churches is not merely controversial to some people, it is offensive.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 28, 2011 at 23:02
  • 5
    I agree people may well feel threatened by secularism. What I'm saying is that threatening != offensive. It's one thing to say you can't have a religious government; it's something quite different to, let's say, ridicule your religion. In either case the person may get angry and defensive, but for different reasons.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 28, 2011 at 23:42
  • 5
    @MetaEd: Actually I'd say that "political correctness" today is about using the complaint that you are offended as a tool to silence your opponents. As in, "You can't say that this thing I'm doing is morally wrong because that offends me, and if you say it's wrong that may incite people to violence against me, or make me feel so bad that I commit suicide and that would be your fault."
    – Jay
    Nov 29, 2011 at 15:49
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    But anyway, the issue in the U.S. isn't that right-wing fundamentalist types are offended by the use of the WORD "secularism", but rather that we disagree with some of the policy prescriptions being made. That's why you need to carefully explain what you mean. There's a big difference between "XYZ Church is supported with tax dollars and its archbishop has the authority to veto any law that is contrary to church policy" and "Mr Jones, who is a member of XYZ Church, is running for office and says that he supports such-and-such a law because of, among other reasons, his religious beliefs."
    – Jay
    Nov 29, 2011 at 15:56

An online search shows that separation of mosque and state is indeed being used. Really what these phrases are talking about is having a secular government. A generic phrase would be separation of religion and state.

  • 5
    Is "separation of religion and state" the most common generic / politically correct alternative?
    – MetaEd
    Nov 28, 2011 at 19:56

The term laicism could be helpful.

A political system characterized by the exclusion of ecclesiastical control and influence

  • That's a good one, but seems a bit obscure. Where did you find it? Nov 28, 2011 at 21:39
  • 1
    you may wanna see this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%AFcit%C3%A9 Laicism is a very popular term for some countries, at least for my homeland.
    – miraz
    Nov 28, 2011 at 22:01
  • 1
    The dictionary definition fails to mention the lack of political control over churches (it works both ways).
    – MSalters
    Nov 29, 2011 at 13:21

It depends on whether you’re seeking a word that describes the existing position or one that describes the process of separation. In the United Kingdom, the Head of State is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The word that would describe any change in that arrangement is disestablishment. I know of no word that describes the status quo in Muslim countries or elsewhere. I think you just have to spell it out in each case. The only other state I can think of in which religious and political roles are combined in the Head of State is the Vatican. In Saudi Arabia, it is true, King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud has the title ‘Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’, but I’m not sure that makes him top Muslim cleric (subject to what any Muslims can tell us).

  • "The disestablishment of religion" might well be the useful phrase. Nov 28, 2011 at 22:32
  • Unfortunately, to many people today who don't remember their history classes, disestablishment of religion probably sounds like someone's actually trying to dismantle their church.
    – Cascabel
    Nov 28, 2011 at 22:57
  • 1
    Not Iran? Also, does state financial support of single or multiple religions count?
    – Mitch
    Nov 29, 2011 at 3:15
  • @Mitch: I did wonder about Iran, but I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable about Ali Khamenei's religious credentials to be able to comment. In any event, I'm not sure Islam has a clerical hierarchy comparable to those found in Christian countries. In practice, though, yes, Iran is a state run on fundamental Islamic principles. Nov 29, 2011 at 8:14
  • Iran's religious leadership lies exclusively with Khamenei. The 6 clerics in the Guardian Council serve at his pleasure. He also runs his own Special Clerical Court which is not bound by the rule of law.
    – MSalters
    Nov 29, 2011 at 13:32

"Separation of religion and state" would make a nice general phrase, but it's not a phrase that's actually in common use. On the other hand, I suppose if you used it people would know what you mean.

Some have used the term "separation of mosque and state", but this is not a widely used term either. Frankly I think it's mostly used as something of a light-hearted play on words.

As MetaEd says, the term "secularism" can be used to describe this idea. However, "secularism" means the separation of religion from anything, not just government, and so you must establish the context when you use it. That is, you can talk about secularism in the arts, secularism in education, secularism in entertainment, etc etc.

I don't want to turn a language question into a political/social/religious debate, but let me just point out that you might want to be careful in using this term because, in America at least, it has a very ambiguous meaning -- maybe inherent in the nature of the debate. If you say "I am in favor of separation of church and state" without explaining exactly what you mean, people could interpret that statement in widely different ways.


If you want to avoid using terms that refer to any possible place of worship, how about secularization of government? It's a bit of a mouthful, but it's as generic as I can come up with.

If you want to keep the pattern of the original phrase, you could do Separation of faith and state, where faith implies religious faith, or as others have suggested Separation of religion and state. If you still want to refer to a building, you could do Separation of temple and state, as I think temple is generic enough to refer to any house of worship. Of course that might exclude religions that don't have actual temples or houses of worship.


The phrase

separation of mosque and state

is definitely used, as well as

separation of religion and state

with the latter much more popular ( shown in Google ngrams) :

enter image description here

Of course, the latter (with 'religion\') works for any religion and may be just a 'politically correct way of being more inclusive, considering 'church' to be too Christian restricted.

But it is very easy to understand 'church' as metaphorical for any religious institution, Christian or not (at least in a predominantly Christian audience. Ad in the same audience, the 'mosque' version does not sound metaphorical at all and seems like it refers specifically to Islamic situations. (that is, one would not use that in English to refer to the lack of separation in the ex-pat Tibetan government which is led by their religious leader, the Dalai Lama).

So in summary:

  • there is no current term that captures exactly 'non-Christian' separation.
  • with 'religion' (or metaphorically) with 'church') to refers to -any- religion including Christian ones.
  • with 'mosque' it refers to the much narrower non-Christian example of Islamic religion.

In Turkey, the direct equivalent of "separation of religion and state" is used as the short description of secularism. The word mosque does not represent or signify (or even imply) any religious institution. It only represents the actual building.


In Israel, the Hebrew version of "separation of religion and state" is used (the two are currently intertwined).


Short answer: NO

OP's over simplified assumption:
1) There is one popular (and overwhelmingly major) religion in any county.
2) In this religion, the worship place has very important meaning.
3) In those countries, one can say the religion and the worship place interchangeably.

I suppose that still in the Earth, countries exist not invaded by Christianity, Islam.

For long answer, I upvoted kiamlaluno's post.

  • 2
    Not sure what point you're trying to make. RE #1: Surely there are many countries in the world that DO have one religion followed by a significant majority of the people: Christianity in the US, Islam in Iran, Hinduism in India, Judaism in Israel, etc etc. #2: Most religions do have some place where believers meet for worship, religious instruction, etc: churches for Christians, mosques for Moslems, synagogues for Jews, etc. #3: While of course the worship place is not synonymous with the religion, it is a convenient and readily-comprehensible symbol of the religion.
    – Jay
    Nov 29, 2011 at 15:41
  • "invaded by" unnecessary. The question can be answered without addressing whether any particular religion is a good thing. Nov 29, 2011 at 20:09

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