Widespread public support for the separation of church and state is the norm in Western Europe, even in countries that have a government-mandated church tax to fund religious institutions, according to a new analysis of a recent Pew Research Center study.
The majority of adults in six countries with a mandatory church tax for members of major religious groups – Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland – agree with the statement “religion should be kept separate from government policies,” rather than favoring the alternate position that “government should promote religious values and beliefs in the country.”
Eight-in-ten adults in Denmark and three-in-four in Austria (76%), for example, say they pay the church tax – responses that indicate a willingness to make the payment, even though the actual shares of Danes and Austrians who pay church taxes may be lower. In both countries, more than half of respondents (76% in Denmark and 56% in Austria) also say religion should be kept separate from government policies.
Churches, and in some cases other religious institutions in several Western European countries, are funded through a mandatory tax on registered members. People can opt out of the tax by deregistering from their churches, but roughly seven-in-ten or more of respondents in the surveyed church-tax countries say they pay the tax.
The difference in opinion between church-tax payers and those who have opted out may be fueling a wider debate in these countries about religious freedom and the role of churches in European societies today.
Views on church-state relations vary in the three Western European countries that give taxpayers the voluntary option of making a donation to a religious organization: Italy, Portugal and Spain. In Italy and Portugal, support for church-state separation is on the lower end of the scale, at 55% and 56%, respectively. But in Spain, support for separation of church and state is quite high (75%).