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World Politics

Vol. 65, No. 4

October 2013

Permissive Constitutions, Democracy, and Religious Freedom in India, Indonesia, Israel, and Turkey

By Hanna Lerner

The article addresses the question of what role formal constitutions play in mitigating intense conflicts over the religious character of the state. In contrast to common views in constitutional and political scholarship, it demonstrates that the ideal of liberal constitutionalism is not compatible with the political reality and types of conflicts that characterize religiously divided societies. Analyzing four processes of constitution drafting in which issues of religious law and religious identity were at the heart of the debate— India, Indonesia, Israel , and Turkey— it argues that under deep disagreement over the state’s religious character, the drafters adopt either a permissive or a restrictive constitutional approach. While the former implies strategies of constitutional ambiguity, ambivalence , and avoidance in order to allow the political system greater flexibility in future decision making on religion-state relations, the latter approach uses repressive constitutional constraints designed to limit the range of possibilities available to future decision makers. The article further explores the long-term consequences of the two approaches and argues that (1) permissive constitutional arrangements, more than restrictive arrangements, are likely to promote the democratic functioning of future governments; and that (2) permissive constitutional arrangements may facilitate greater freedom of religion, but they are also likely to lead to greater restrictions on freedom from religion, compared with restrictive constitutions.

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