Thirty countries require leaders to belong to a specific faith
Sebastian Scheiner, ASSOCIATED PRESS
In 30 countries around the world, heads of state must meet particular religious requirements, according to a new analysis from Pew Research Center that lists the countries and explains how their laws work to uphold the desired relationship between religion and the state.
Bhutan and Thailand require the head of state to be Buddhist. Christian belief is the law in Andorra and Lebanon for the head of state. But the Lebanese balance that by requiring the prime minister be Sunni Muslim.
The analysis showed that Islamic belief is the most likely to be enforced by law. "More than half of the countries with religion-related restrictions on their heads of state (17) maintain that the office must be held by a Muslim," Pew reported.
Eight of the 30 countries regulate the role the leaders play in the church. In Bolivia, Burma, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela, clergy members are prohibited from becoming the heads of state.
"Several of the countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Afghanistan, also made the State Department's 2012 report on international religious freedom as some of the worst perpetrators of religious oppression," The Huffington Post reported. "In Saudi Arabia, for instance, not only is the president's religion restricted, but any public practice of a religion other than Islam is prohibited."
Pew's analysis also noted the 19 countries where ceremonial monarchs must belong to a specific religion. "Sixteen of these, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II — also known as the Defender of the Faith — as their head of state," Pew reported.
The United States is not an exception. The Washington Post reported in early July that in eight states atheism makes a candidate ineligible for public office. Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Maryland, Arkansas and Texas all have language in their state constitution that notes the necessity of belief in God.
However, these restrictions are complicated by the United States Constitution's prohibition against imposing a "religious test" on candidates for federal or state office, Pew reported. "The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion clearly prohibits states from requiring office-holders to profess a belief in God."
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