Clearing the Confusion: What 'Secular' Is--and Isn't

What does it mean to be “secular”?  And how does that impact our growing list of supporters and our advocacy on behalf of Arizonans?  Let’s examine the common points of confusion.

What is Secularism?

The term ‘secular’ means ‘not of religion’— quite different from ‘anti-religion.’  In fact, a basic tenet of secularism is that citizens of all religions and beliefs are equal before the law.   

When applied to government, secularism represents a view that:

  • government should not involve itself with religious matters
  • religious doctrine should not shape public policy
  • all citizens and institutions should enjoy equal rights compared to others in society, whether they embrace a religious position or not.

As applied to public policy, secularism requires the strict separation of church and state.  This approach ensures that all Arizonans are free to practice their faith without government interference, and, conversely, that no one religion is able to impose its practices by law on an entire population.

Secularism Misused

In public debate and throughout the media, ‘secular’ and ‘secularism’ are often misused to suggest a  threat to religion.  This is especially true when the term is used in a political sense. ‘Secular’ has become a politically divisive term, often expressed to imply sinister anti-religious motives that simply do not exist.  

‘Secularism’ is also often confused with ‘atheism’ – two distinct terms that do not belong in the same category.  Secularism is a political and social philosophy, while atheism is an absent belief in a spiritual deity.  Embracing one of these terms does not necessarily signify acceptance of the other. 

It is important to understand these distinctions in order to understand our organization. At Secular Coalition for Arizona, we are proud that our members represent a wide spectrum of Arizonans. We lobby on behalf of all individuals – nontheists and theists alike - who believe that public policy free of religious preference is the best way to ensure freedom of conscience for Arizonans of all faiths and of none.

Secular Principles as applied to public policy:


  • Government must remain separate from religion to ensure freedom of conscience for all citizens, regardless of their religious belief or nonbelief
  • Democracy and Fairness – All citizens are equal before the law.  Religious intrusion into public policy runs counter to that concept of equality.
  • Human Rights – Secular government champions human rights above discriminatory religious practices.  It upholds laws that protect the rights of women, LGBTQ people and minorities.  Secular government ensures that nonbelievers have the same rights as those who identify with a religious belief.
  • Religious Freedom – Secularists defend the absolute freedom of religious individuals and institutions to practice their beliefs, so long as these practices do not impinge upon the rights and freedoms of others.  Secular public policy ensures that the right of individuals to practice their religion is balanced by the right of individuals who choose to live free from religion.

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