What’s an established church?

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An established church is recognized by a national government and receives support, but some countries prohibit it. Examples include Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim sects. The head of government may also be the head of the church, and citizens may be required to follow its teachings. Some countries allow freedom of religion, while others suppress conflicting faiths. Some nations have abandoned established churches, while others have switched allegiance.

An established church is a church that receives special recognition from a national government. The church represents the nation’s official religious faith and receives support from the government, in a wide variety of forms, from financial assistance to legal protections. Established churches can be seen in many regions of the world, although some nations, such as the United States, have laws specifically prohibiting the establishment of this type of church, in the interest of maintaining a separation of church and state.

Christian, Buddhist and Muslim sects can be seen in roles as established churches in nations such as England, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia. In nations with an established church, the head of government may also be the head of the church, and people may be required to follow the teachings of the church, though this is not always the case. In some regions, while the church enjoys official government recognition, many citizens are not among the faithful and do not attend church.

Some nations have adopted an existing religion as their established church, while others have established their own denominations. In cases where the state creates a church, the church cannot make policy changes without consulting the state, and the state cannot change church-related laws without discussing the matter with religious leaders. The Church of England is an example of a state church of this nature.

The acceptance of other faiths in nations with an established church varies. Some countries promote freedom of religious expression, allowing their citizens to practice any religion, or none at all if that is their preference. They can also actively protect the right to peacefully worship any faith through laws and other measures. In other regions, religions or sects seen as conflicting with the established church may be suppressed, and people belonging to those groups may be persecuted. Historically, nations were sometimes quite brutal about their enforcement of religious faith, as seen during the Inquisition in Europe.

Some nations that once planted churches have chosen to abandon this type of church in the interest of protecting the clear divisions between church and state. In these countries, people are welcome to continue practicing the faith, but it is no longer recognized as an official government church. Nations have also switched allegiance, as seen in England when King Henry VIII broke with Roman Catholicism and founded the Church of England.

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