Laiklik, genel olarak bilinen anlamıyla din ve devlet işlerinin birbirinden ayrılmasıdır.Laikliğin ortaya çıkmasındaki temel husus; modern düşüncenin kurucularından olan John Locke’un, dini, ahlaki ve  felsefi  konularda yapılan tartışmaların otorite yoluyla bir karara bağlanamayacağı düşüncesidir.Yani  devletin dinler arasında ayrım yapmamasının,  tarafsız bir bakış açısı izlemesinin gerekliliğini  ifade eder.Siyaset felsefesinin temsilcilerinden Norman Barry de benzer düşünceyi şöyle açıklar:  “Ruhani dünya konusundaki hakikatin ispatlanabilir olmaması karşısında, devletin herhangi bir dinden yana olmamalı.’’ Devlet laiklik ilkesini uygularken, dini veya inançları sadece bireyin vicdanına bırakarak, dinin  kamusal alandaki varoluşunu  mümkün olduğunca azaltmayı amaçlamaktadır.


Devlet ve din arasındaki ilişkilerde temel bir zemin sağlayan laiklik, bu ilişkiler açısından üç özellik gösterir: Devlet dine bağlıdır (teokrasi); din devlete bağlıdır (imparatorluk); ikisi de özerktir (demokrasi). Demokratik batılı ülkelerde genel olarak laikliğin anlamı şöyle tanımlanır: ‘’Devletin resmî bir dini mevcut değildir; devlet, dinî olarak inanç ayrımı yapmadan farklı din ve mezhep sahiplerine ve hiçbir dini inancı olmayanlara eşit davranışlarda bulunmak zorundadır. Hukuk kurallarının ve tüm kamu işlemlerinin dinî kurallara uygun olma zorunluluğu bulunmaz, devlet kurumları ile din kurumlarının birbirinden ayrılmış olmaları gerekir ve bütün bunların genel bir sonucu olarak hangi inanca mensup olunursa olunsun herkese din, vicdan ve ibadet özgürlükleri tanınmış olması ve onların güvence altına alınması gereklidir.”


Günümüzde, siyaset bilimini içine alan düşünceye göre artık bireyleri “dinden özgürleştirmek” isteyen bakış açısı geçerliliğini yitirmişti. Laiklik, Fransa’da “dinden özgürlük” yani dinden soyutlanmak, dinin olmadığı yeri özgürlük saymak olarak ifade edilirken, ABD’de de ise benimsenen düşünce “dinin özgürleşmesi” yani dinin devlete bağlanmaması veya devletin dine bağlanmaması şeklinde olmuştur.


Ziya Gökalp  “Laik” kelimesini  “la dini” olarak ifade ederken,  Osmanlı sadrazamı Ahmet İzzet Paşa ise “la Rehbani” yani ruhbanla ilgisi bulunmayan şeklinde çevirir. “Kilise hükümeti” veya “papazlar hükümeti” Fransızca’da laik olmayan hükümetlere denmektedir. Yani “laik hükümet” demek bir sınıfın değil genel olarak halka ait olan hükümet anlamını taşır. “Laik” kelimesinin İngilizce’deki karşılığı “lay” veya “secular”dır. İngilizce’de “lay” ruhban sınıfından olmayan kilise cemaati üyesi ve meslekten olmayan anlamına gelir.. “Secular”in manası ise  din dışı olarak belirtilir..Fransızlar ise “lay” kelimesini “ruhban sınıfı”na dâhil olmayanlar için kullanmışlardır.


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