Separation of Religion and State

Do individuals have more rights in secular societies and why? And who has what responsibility in standing up for these universal human rights?

Programme editor
Programme editor
In cooperation with
Maryam Namazie

Secularism is often seen as a Western concept. But the demand for separation between religion, state and law is particularly important for those living in theocracies and religious states. Speakers discuss how secularism is a minimum precondition for the rights of women, LGBT+’s, ex-Muslims and minorities. If one believes that these rights are universal human rights and not just Western rights, which conclusions should be drawn from it? 

We discuss the specific case of Afsana Lachaux, whose son Louis lives in Dubai, where Sharia law prevents Afsana from visiting and gaining custody of her son. Do individuals have more rights in secular societies and if so, why? Who has the responsibility to stand up for universal human rights? Is it still ethical to have trade relationships, cultural exchanges and partnerships with states where these ‘basic human rights’ are being violated?


Afsana Lachaux has been fighting for many years to bring her son Louis home. Louis lives in Dubai where Sharia law prevents Afsana from visiting and gaining custody of her son. Afsana’s long running legal campaign for justice continues both in the UK and France. She is currently writing a book on honour killings.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, originally founded in 1976 with her mother, feminist activist Anne Nicol Gaylor. Gaylor is the author of several books, including “Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So”, “Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children” and, as editor, “Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters,” an anthology of historic women freethinkers.

Homa Arjomand is an Iranian–born political activist, who runs the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada. She received the 2005 Toronto Humanist of the Year award and was recognised as women of the year by Gazette Des Femmes amongst others. She is the Spokesperson of Women’s Liberation in Canada and founder of the Cultural Bridges.

Sadia Hameed is spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She is also a human rights activist and honour based violence, forced marriage and FGM Consultant, based in Gloucestershire, working in the sexual violence field, with a focus on Black Minority Ethnic women.

Elżbieta Podleśna is an outspoken activist and human rights defender from Poland. She has stood up against hate and discrimination for many years and is fighting for a just and equal Poland. She was charged with ‘offending religious beliefs’ and is currently facing up to two years in prison. Still, she refuses to stay silent.

Marieme Helie Lucas who was going to participate, is unfortunately unable to come to Amsterdam, she will be replaced by Sadia Hameed.


Bercan GünelBercan Günel is partner at NGL International as an Executive Searcher, Executive Coach, Public Speaker on Leadership and a well-known advocate of diversity in the boardroom. She has published many articles on Leadership and Diversity and has written a book “We hebben al een vrouw – We already have a woman”.


Afsana Lachaux
Annie Laurie Gaylor
Elżbieta Podleśna
Homa Arjomand
Marieme Helie Lucas