The Scope of Religious Freedom and its Limits under the FDRE Constitution: A Survey of Contemporary Problems and Challenges

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Addis Ababa University


This paper strives to look into the contemporary legal and practical challenges that basically arise from the interaction between the freedom of religion and the principle of secularism under the Ethiopian constitutional system. In so doing, of course, the Ethiopian legal system is examined in light of the international human rights instruments and standards. Moreover, it examines a myriad of competing interests in order to understand the depth of the challenges they posed. Furthermore, the paper attempts to identify a number of factors and emerging trends that contribute to the religion related tensions and conflicts that ensue in recent years. The paper argues that constitutionally speaking the strict model of secularism is a viable option for Ethiopia given its religious diversity and the normative value of pluralism. Moreover, it argues in favor of the need for specific legislative frame work that offers a clear guidance by defining the precise contours of the scope and limits of the right as well as the implicit and explicit consequences of secularism. It further argues that, the inherent tension between our secular State and freedom of religious expression is natural; however, this relationship gives rise to a patchwork of competing interests that are in several occasions incommensurable or rationally incompatible, thus, it is high time to formulate a specific guideline that serves as a road map for those who are supposed to assume the responsibility of enforcement and those who seek to enjoy their legitimate religious rights. We are not under illusion, however, that all the difficult issues of religious expression and secularism will be resolved through legal mechanisms per se. Thus, other means are also worth considering; though, we can’t postulate a fully mature one here, some extra legal solutions are provided in the recommendatory section. Nonetheless, both the legislative frame work and its reinforcing consensus guideline will offer a legal safe harbour for every one.



Religion, Secularism, Public Sphere, Pluralism, Tolerance, Religious expression, Extremism