The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






State religion

See also civil religion.

A state religion (also called an established church or state church) is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. The term state church is most closely associated with Christianity, although it is sometimes used in the context of other faiths as well. Closely related to state churches are what sociologists call ecclesiae, though the two are slightly different.


Types of state churches

The degree of state endorsement of a state religion varies, from mere endorsement and financial support, with freedom for other faiths to practice, to prohibiting any competing church from operating and persecuting the followers of other churches. In Europe, competition between Catholic and Protestant denominations for state sponsorship in the 16th century evolved the principle cuius regio eius religio embodied in the text of the treaty that marked the Peace of Augsburg, 1555.

In some cases, a state may have a set of state-sponsored religious denominations that it funds; such is the case in Alsace-Moselle in France, following the pattern in Germany.

In some communist countries, notably the People's Republic of China, the state sponsors religious organizations, and activities outside the state-sponsored religious organizations are met with various degrees of official disapproval. In these cases, state religions are widely seen as efforts by the state to prevent alternate sources of authority.

Sociology of state churches

Sociologists refer to mainstream non-state religions as denominations. State religions tend to admit a larger variety of opinion within them than denominations. Denominations encountering major differences of opinion within themselves are likely to split; this option is not open for most state churches, so they tend to try to integrate differing opinions within themselves. An exception to this is the Church of Scotland which has split several times in the past for doctrinal reasons. Its largest surviving offshoots are the Free Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland. These offshoots have lost the established status of their parent.

Increasingly, sociologists of religion are using the concept of monopolies in economics as an analogy for state churches.

State religions tend to enjoy the allegiance of the majority of their country; however much of this support is little more than nominal, with many members of the church rarely attending it. But the population's allegiance towards the state religions is often strong enough to prevent them from joining competing religious groups. Sociologists put this forward as an explanation for the religious differences between the United States and Europe: many sociologists theorise that the continuing vitality of religion in American life, compared to many European countries, is due to the lack of a strong state church (or indeed, any state church at all) during much of American history.

Just because a country has an official religion does not make that country intolerant towards other religions. It all depends upon the government and the level of tolerance the citizens of that country have for each other. Some countries with official religions have laws that guarantee the freedom of worship, full liberty of conscience, and places of worship for all citizens and implement those laws in society better than countries that do not have an official or established state religion.


Disestablishment is the process of divesting a church of its status as an organ of the state. In England there was a campaign by Liberals, dissenters and nonconformists to disestablish the Church of England in the late 19th century; it failed in England but demands for the measure persist to this day. The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869 and the Church of England was disestablished in Wales in 1920, becoming the Church in Wales. Those who wish to continue with an established church take a position of antidisestablishmentarianism.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States explicitly bans the Federal government from setting up a state church. Until the mid-19th century this amendment was understood as allowing for state governments to create established churches and a number of states did so. With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the prohibition on established churches was interpreted as a general prohibition on state support of religion. The exact boundaries of this prohibition are still disputed and are a frequent source of cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, especially as the court must reconcile the establishment clause of First Amendment with the clause that prohibits restraints on the free exercise of religion.

Christian countries

The following states which recognize some form of Christianity as their official religion:

Roman Catholic

States which recognize Catholicism as their official religion:


Nations which recognize a form of Protestant Christianity as their official religion:


Nations which recognize the Evangelical Lutheran Church as their official religion:


Nations which recognize the Orthodox Church as their official religion:

Islamic states

Countries which recognize Islam as their official religion:

Nations which recognize Sunni Islam as their official religion:

Buddhist states

Countries which recognize Buddhism as their official religion:

Countries which recognize Tibetan Buddhism as their official religion:

  • Tibet (government-in-exile)

Countries which recognize Lamaistic Buddhism as their official religion:

Country which recognizes Theravada Buddhism as their official religion:

Hindu states

Country which recognizes Hinduism as their official religion:

Jewish states

Note: Officially, Israel has no state religion or established church. A few personal status laws, in particular regarding marriage and divorce, are governed by state-recognized Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze authorities. As the Jewish state, however, its de facto state religion is Judaism.

Established churches and former state churches in Europe

Country Church Denomination Disestablished
Albania [1] none since independence
Andorra Roman Catholic Church Catholic no
Anhalt Evangelical Church of Anhalt Lutheran 1918
Armenia Armenian Orthodox Church Oriental Orthodox 1921
Austria Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1918
Baden Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1918
Bavaria Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1918
Belarus none since independence
Belgium none since independence
Bosnia and Herzegovina none since independence
Brunswick-Lüneburg Evangelical Church of Brunswick Lutheran 1918
Bulgaria Bulgarian Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox 1946
Croatia none since independence
Cyprus Cypriot Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox ?
Czech Republic Roman Catholic Church Catholic ?
Denmark Church of Denmark Lutheran no
England Church of England Anglican no
Estonia Church of Estonia Lutheran 1940
Finland [2] Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland/Finnish Orthodox Church Lutheran/Eastern Orthodox no
France Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1905
Georgia Georgian Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox 1921
Greece Greek Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox no
Hesse Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau Lutheran 1918
Hungary Roman Catholic Church Catholic ?
Iceland Church of Iceland Lutheran no
Ireland Church of Ireland Anglican 1871
Italy Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1984
Latvia Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1940
Liechtenstein Roman Catholic Church Catholic ?
Lippe Church of Lippe Reformed 1918
Lithuania Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1940
Lübeck North Elbian Evangelical Church Lutheran 1918
Luxemburg Roman Catholic Church Catholic ?
Republic of Macedonia none since independence
Malta Roman Catholic Church Catholic no
Mecklenburg Evangelical Church of Mecklenburg Lutheran 1918
Moldova none since independence
Monaco Roman Catholic Church Catholic ?
Netherlands Dutch Reformed Church Reformed 1795
Norway Church of Norway Lutheran no
Oldenburg Evangelical Church of Oldenburg Lutheran 1918
Poland Roman Catholic Church Catholic 1918
Portugal Roman Catholic Church Catholic ?
Prussia 13 provincial churches Lutheran 1918
Romania Romanian Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox 1947
Russia Russian Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox 1917
Thuringia Evangelical Church in Thuringia Lutheran 1918
Saxony Evangelical Church of Saxony Lutheran 1918
Schaumburg-Lippe Evangelical Church of Schaumburg-Lippe Lutheran 1918
Scotland Church of Scotland Reformed no
Serbia and Montenegro Serb Orthodox Church Eastern Orthodox ?
Slovakia none since independence
Slovenia none since independence
Spain Roman Catholic Church Catholic no
Sweden Church of Sweden Lutheran January 2000
Switzerland none since independence
Turkey Islam 1928
Ukraine none since independence
Waldeck Evangelical Church of the Hesse Electorate and Waldeck Lutheran 1918
Wales Church in Wales Anglican 1920
Württemberg Evangelical Church of Württemberg Lutheran 1918

[1] In 1967, the Albanian government made atheism the "state religion". This designation remained in effect until 1991.
[2] Finland's State Church was the Church of Sweden until 1809, and the Russian Orthodox Church from 1809 to 1917. After independence in 1917 Finland gave State Church status to both the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (successor to the Church of Sweden in Finland) and the Finnish Orthodox Church (successor to the Russian Orthodox Church in Finland).

Former state churches in British North America

Last updated: 02-07-2005 12:47:32
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55
Colony Denomination
Connecticut Congregational
Delaware Anglican
Georgia Anglican
Lower Canada Roman Catholic
Maryland Roman Catholic
Massachusetts Congregational
New Brunswick Anglican
New Hampshire Congregational
New Jersey Anglican
New York Anglican
Newfoundland Anglican
North Carolina Anglican
Nova Scotia Presbyterian
Pennsylvania Quaker
Prince Edward Island Anglican
Rhode Island Baptist
South Carolina Anglican
Upper Canada Anglican
Virginia Anglican