Welcome Speech to the International Consultation

„Religion and Secular State“

In November 2005, the – at that time still – Abrahamic Forum of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bosnia-Herzegovina hosted an international consultation in Sarajevo on "Visions of a Just Society". Experts and leading personalities from European (in particular South Eastern European) and Middle Eastern countries representing the three monotheistic faiths, discussed Fears, Hopes, and Chances for Living together in a Globalized World from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspectives.


After three days of extensive discussion and stimulating exchange of thoughts, the need was felt to continue with trilateral dialogue. Pondering the possibilities of date, venue, and issues, it was unanimously agreed to meet again in Sarajevo and focus this time on the relationship between Religion and Secular State.

Following these lines and agreement, the newly established European Abrahamic Forum (EAF), the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in BiH, and the new Interreligious Institute in Bosnia-Herzegovina agreed to organize and host this second international consultation:

„Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to jet another high-level international consultation – bringing together theologians, academics and sociologists from Europe, the Near East and the Middle East. In the coming days the concept – or shall I rather say – concepts of secular state shall be in the focus of our analysis and discussions.

The following questions will be discussed:

  • How has the relationship between State and Religion evolved?
  • How is the separation from State and Religion organised?
  • How is a balance between State and Religion ensured?
Once again Sarajevo has been chosen for this consultation. This is an acknowledgment of its unique history as symbol of tolerance and the hope that this city and this country, once again will function as bridge between the world religions, between Occident and Orient.

Two years ago, the wish to organise an international consultation on the topic of Religion and Secular State came from the participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, in the past years the negotiations on relationship between State and Religion have been undertaken - leading to a new state law on “Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Religious Communities and Churches in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

With the new law - which provides for the right to freedom of conscience and religion in the country, grants churches and religious communities legal status and allows them concessions that are characteristic of a nongovernmental organization (NGO), a new chapter of cooperation between State and Religion has been opened.

Never the less much remains to be done. This was identified by the recent International Religious Freedom Report 2007 conducted by the United States government. Just to highlight a few aspects, the report states:

  • Discrimination remained a serious problem.
  • The number of incidents against religious symbols, clerics, and property in all three ethnic majority areas increased.
  • There were a number of controversial and highly politicized cases involving the illegal construction of religious buildings or monuments on private or government-owned land.
  • Weak administrative and judicial systems effectively restricted religious freedom and posed major obstacles to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities.
  • Government protection of religious freedom declined, especially during the campaign period.
It is my strong opinion, that a secular state does not imply negation of religion as a positive force in society which can strongly contribute to social justice, stability and peace. I believe every society can find a working model of separation and cooperation between State and Religion. Let us compare, how different states solve this issue and which perspectives and opinions the monotheistic religions have.

I wish us all successful and intriguing discussions.“