In this video, I see that members of parliaments, PM, and so on are taking oath by holding a book.

Is it a bible? If Yes, is England a secular country or not?

In this video, I see POTUS is holding a Bible which means something.

If they are secular countries, what is the difference between, say, the Islamic Republic of Iran/Pakistan and them regarding a state religion?

  • 12
    England is explicitly not secular - there is a national church of which the queen serves as the head. This cuts both ways - both the church receives certain special privileges, but also holds certain responsibilities. Jul 30, 2020 at 13:08
  • 5
    Members choose affirmation or oath cards to read. There is no set list of sacred texts which MPs may use when swearing in. All Members decide beforehand which text they would prefer to use. Then every effort is made to ensure that it is provided. Books which may not be handled by non-believers are kept in slip-cases on the Table. Reference. Jul 30, 2020 at 13:18
  • 2
    A secular government means everybody has the freedom to choose their religion, even elected officials. Jul 30, 2020 at 14:25
  • I think we'd have to parse out governments vs societies, at large, when talking about what "country" means. I've read a lot of discussion about the USA, specifically, not being a "Christian nation," but that not necessarily not being the same of not being a "nation of Christians." At least, as the demographics were earlier in its history. Jul 30, 2020 at 15:48
  • @AndrewBreza What if elected officials are only electable if they follow a certain religion? I don’t believe the US has ever had a non-Christian President. Many elected officials here publicly boast about being guided by Christian values. Can I still say I live in a secular country just because freedom of religion is in the constitution? Jul 31, 2020 at 4:40

2 Answers 2


A secular state does not mean that elected representatives are not allowed to publicly follow a religion or use their religious convictions to justify decisions they make. What it actually means is:

  • Separation of religious institutions and the state. Religious leaders do not have any legislative, executive or judicial powers just based on their religious position. (Religious leaders usually do have the freedom of speech to take positions on political topics, but the politicians are free to ignore them)
  • No state religion. Representatives and political officials are not obligated to follow a specific religion or any religion at all. For example, the US house of representatives includes 26 Jews, 3 Muslims, 3 Hindus, a Buddhist and 13 people who do not officially state their religious beliefs. According to the website of the UK parliament, the 2017 House of Commons included at least 15 Muslims and one Sikh. Political officials can choose if they want to swear their oath on the Bible, a different religious document, a secular document or no document at all.
  • No religious document with judicial relevance. For example, the constitutions of many Islamic countries directly refer to the Quran as a source of constitutional and/or criminal law. A law can be declared unconstitutional if a council of theologians determines that it violates the Islamic Sharia law as written in the Quran.

Is the US a secular state? According to the First Amendment to the US constitution, it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

That means that there is no state religion, but it also means that the US President is free to publicly exercise his personal religious beliefs by posing with a bible in front of a church. And US citizens are free to think of that what they want.

The official state motto is still "In God We Trust" which might imply that the state religion is monotheistic. But there is nothing in the US political processes which gives this phrase any powers.

Is the UK a secular state? Well, yes and no. While laws don't need to follow religious rules and while most elected politicians do not need to follow a specific religion, there are still 26 seats in the House of Lords which are reserved for Bishops from the Church of England. Further, the monarch of the UK (either the most or the least important politician in the country, depending on your point of view), is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and must be a Reformed Protestant.

Regarding the oath swearing ceremony depicted in the video in the question: The Oaths Act of 1978, which is still the current law for the oaths of Members of Parliament, mandates that Christians and Jews have to swear (or affirm) "by Almighty God". According to this law, Christians swear on the Bible, while Jews swear on the old testament. So yes, the book depicted in the video is very likely a Christian Bible. But the law further says that:

"In the case of a person who is neither a Christian nor a Jew, the oath shall be administered in any lawful manner."

which means that MPs who follow different religions (or no religion at all) are free to deliver their oath in a form which fits their personal beliefs. For example, at the 2:00 mark, the video shows how MP Sajid Javid (who describes himself as not following any religion) delivers a purely secular oath:

"I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law."

  • 1
    This is a terrific answer Jul 30, 2020 at 14:25
  • This is a great answer. It could perhaps be improved a little by clarifying that the UK has freedom of religion, even though it does not have separation of church & state. Many US sources tend to conflate the two. A reference to ECHR Article 9's guarantee of "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" might help here.
    – Matthew
    Jul 30, 2020 at 19:08
  • Also, the monarch is not "head of the Church of England"; she is Supreme Governor. The difference is theologically very important, because the New Testament repeatedly says that Jesus is the head of the Church. It should also be noted that the monarch does not have to be Anglican; she only needs to be a Reformed Protestant (and when in Scotland she is Presbyterian).
    – Matthew
    Jul 30, 2020 at 19:12
  • You only list 47 House members. Jul 30, 2020 at 19:41
  • “What it actually means is...” It might improve the answer somewhat if you state how you arrived at those three criteria. Is it a standard definition and if so, where did it come from? Jul 31, 2020 at 8:45

See the Wikipedia article on "Secularlism". There are many definitions of the term. The most common meaning is institutional separation of church and state. This clearly exists to a far greater degree in the UK or US than in Iran. For many committed atheists, a country like the UK or US is not as secular as it should be for reasons you hint at in the question. Precisely how a country should define and value secularism (or reject it) is ultimately a matter of opinion.

  • I made and edit to add mention of the US but the substance is the same.
    – Brian Z
    Jul 30, 2020 at 13:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .