May 22, 2007
Europeans and Americans approach the relationship between church and state differently. European churches, for instance, often receive official sanction and substantial financial support from the government. In the United States, on the other hand, the government recognizes no church, and whatever aid it provides is usually indirect and substantially more limited. Even ideas of religious liberty differ, with European notions of religious freedom focused more on the rights of communities than on those of individuals.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life invited a distinguished panel of experts from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss the key differences between the U.S. and various European church-state models, including the distinctive virtues and vices of each system. The panel also explored how well each model accommodates newcomers, particularly Muslims, a community that is growing rapidly in both Europe and the United States.
Sam Cherribi, Professor of Sociology, Emory University
Bill Galston, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
Chris Soper, Director, Center for Faith and Learning, Pepperdine University
Justin Vaisse, Adjunct Professor, Sciences Po Paris
Johan Van der Vyver, Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Emory University School of Law
David Masci, Senior Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
DAVID MASCI: Good afternoon, and on behalf of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, I’d like to welcome you all to today’s discussion on church-state issues in Europe and the United States. My name is David Masci and I’m a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, which is a part of the Pew Research Center. The Forum’s mission is to provide timely information on important issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs, very much like this one. We’re nonpartisan, which means that we do not take positions on any issues, including the ones we’re going to be discussing today.
We’ve entitled this event “Another Transatlantic Divide,” which in some ways is an accurate label. There are real differences in the way that Europeans and Americans view the proper relationship between government on one hand and religious people and institutions on the other. Of course, there are also differences within Europe itself. But there are enough European commonalities to allow us, in a general sense, to compare and differentiate Europe from the situation here in the United States. So that’s what we’re going to try to do today.
For instance, churches in many European countries receive official sanction and financial support from the state, while American federal and state governments are constitutionally barred from recognizing any church and are not allowed to provide any assistance; they only provide indirect and limited assistance. Even ideas of religious liberty differ. While people on both sides of the Atlantic generally agree on the need for religious freedom, they tend to define it differently. While Europeans, for instance, recognize freedom of conscience, they also tend to focus on the rights of communities much more than their individual-minded American counterparts. So these are some of the examples of this transatlantic divide that we’re talking about.
On the other hand, when we mention the term transatlantic divide, it’s a little bit misleading. The term, which has become a cliché really of late, reflects a broadly held view that politically and culturally Europe and the United States have been drifting apart in recent decades. Their outlooks have been changing, but the different views on church-state relations stem from hundreds of years of history on both sides of the Atlantic, not just recent social and cultural trends.
European governments have generally tied religion more closely to the state, viewing religious expression as a matter of national identity. This makes sense given the relative ethnic and religious homogeneity of many European states. Likewise, Americans, who have been a diverse lot from almost the start of European settlement 400 years ago, have tended to view faith more as a private matter.
There are other ways to parse out these differences between the two as well. I’ll just mention two, and I’m sure our speakers will go into some of them. Today we’d like to examine how European and American approaches stack up against each other, especially now with the kind of rapid demographic and social changes occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. Given these demographic and other changes, one question immediately comes to mind, and that is: Is one system better than the other at accommodating and integrating religious minorities, specifically newcomers? This is particularly important given the growth of Islam in many parts of Europe and to a lesser degree in the United States. Take, for instance, the head scarf controversy. It would be very hard to imagine Americans taking the kind of action that France did in 2004 when it banned Muslim head scarves as well as the wearing of yarmulkes and crosses in public schools. Such an action would be constitutionally impermissible here, but it also would have violated core American notions of religious toleration. And yet, would an American solution to the head scarf issue have been the right one for France?
To help us examine these and many other questions, we’ve assembled an excellent panel of experts today, both from Europe and the United States. We’ve provided you with biographies of all the speakers, but let me briefly identify each. First up today will be Johan Van der Vyver, who teaches international law and human rights at Emory Law School. Before that, Johan taught law at the University of Witwatersrand in his native South Africa. Next up will be Sam Cherribi, a senior lecturer in sociology also at Emory University. Before coming to the United States a number of years ago, Sam served eight years as a member of Parliament in Holland. Next we’ll be hearing from Bill Galston, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In addition to teaching for more than a decade at the University of Maryland, Bill also served a stint during the 1990s as deputy assistant for domestic policy for President Bill Clinton.
Following Professor Galston will be Justin Vaisse. Justin, I hope I got that right. My French teachers would probably not be very happy with my level of French pronunciation these days, but anyway. Justin is an adjunct professor at Sciences Po in Paris and an affiliated scholar at the Brookings Institution, and he’s just told me that he’ll be coming on board the Brookings Institution for a three-year stint beginning in September of this year. He’s also co-authored a new book, Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France, so it will be very interesting to hear what he has to say about that. Finally, we’ll be hearing from Chris Soper, who was a professor of political science at Pepperdine University. Chris also directs the Center for Faith and Learning at Pepperdine. Now, without further ado, let me hand things over to Professor Van der Vyver.
JOHAN VAN DER VYVER: Thank you for inviting me. The multiple arrangements of church-state relations and constitutions of the world can, in broad outline, be classified into several categories. The first is the separation of church and state, which is a salient component of First Amendment jurisprudence in the United States but is also proclaimed, as far as European countries are concerned, in the constitutions of Poland, Portugal and Russia. In the same spirit, some countries testify in their constitutions to being secular states, including in the European context Ireland, Russia and Turkey. And yet another group, including Albania, Ireland, Slovakia and Spain, proclaim their neutrality with respect to religion.
The second category, confined to Islamic states, proclaim the identity of law and religion. It is in a sense slightly more complicated than that because Islam is not perceived by its followers as a church; it is a way of life. And religion and law are not distinct modalities of reality; religion is law and law is religion.
The third basic model of church-state relations derives from the scholastic doctrine of subsidiarity, proclaiming the church to be the societas perfecta in the supernatural realm of grace, while the state is the perfect community structure in the realm of nature. A particular offshoot of perceiving the state to be a supreme authority within the realm of nature was the singling out of a particular denomination as the established church. In conformity with the doctrine of subsidiarity, the established church is subordinate to but endowed with all kinds of privileges by the state – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Norway, Finland, Iceland, and not so long ago also in Denmark and Sweden; the Anglican Church in England; and the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. The Roman Catholic Church is still an established church or is afforded special constitutional recognition in Liechtenstein, Malta and Monaco. The Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ is singled out as the prevailing religion in Greece.
Finally, mention can be made of the new Calvinistic doctrine of sphere sovereignty, which is sensitive to the interaction between church and state, and the symbiosis of religion and law, but recognizes the unique attributes and equal standing of each within its own internal sphere of competencies. Somewhat akin to the notion of sphere sovereignty, Romania permits the organization of religious sects in accordance with their own statutes but under the conditions of the law. Italy affords independence and sovereignty, each within its own ambit, to the state and the Roman Catholic Church only. Ireland more generously proclaims the right of every religious denomination to manage its own affairs.
Just a few words about the separation of church and state. It should be evident to everyone that interpretations of the [First Amendment’s] Establishment Clause over the years went well beyond the drafter’s original intent. Prohibiting a daily period of silence in public schools for purposes of meditation or voluntary prayers, refusing to pay salaries to public school employees who taught at parochial schools, or declining to adjudicate church-related disputes that require evidence on doctrinal issues is a far cry from the ban of an established church.
Secondly, even the most elementary analysis of First Amendment jurisprudence will reveal the many inconsistencies between the free exercise and establishment decisions, and indeed, inconsistencies within the separate parameters of the free exercise and establishment decisions respectively. It also strikes one that almost every new appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court uses the first available opportunity to add a new dimension to the three-pronged test laid down [in 1971] in Lemon v. Kurtzman to identify excessive entanglement of the state with religion and to retain the measure of neutrality in matters of religion required if the Jeffersonian wall of separation between church and state is to be kept high and impregnable.
I often wondered why all this confusion and why this unending bickering to find solid ground for free exercise in establishment interpretations. Do not the principle of legality and the concomitant demands of legal certainty require that fundamental concepts of constitutional propriety become relatively fixed and comprehensible? The very core of constitutionalism and the rule of law are, after all, at stake here. At least part of the problem is that the notion of separation is based on a false premise, the perception that church and state and religion and law can be separated in watertight compartments. Even justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have said so. Chief Justice Warren Burger, on one occasion, pointed out that – and I quote – the metaphor of a wall between church and state is not a wholly accurate description of the practical aspects of this relationship that in fact exists between church and state.
As for Western Europe, there is no uniformity as far as the regulation of church-state relations is concerned. When considering the state of religious freedom in Europe, one might consider the listing of so-called dangerous sects in countries such as Austria, Belgium and France, or discrimination against members of the Church of Scientology in Germany, or the prohibition of the wearing of Muslim head scarves in schools and public places in France and Turkey, and much more.
I’ve already mentioned establishment of a preferred religion in countries such as England, Norway, Finland and Iceland. In Liechtenstein, the protection of religion is stipulated in the constitutions to be the function of the state, and the property rights of religious institutions are specially regulated as a constitutional matter. Greece has been on the red carpet before the European Court of Human Rights for sanctioning rigid and, indeed, prohibitive conditions to restrict the activities of faith communities outside the Greek Orthodox Church, and for restrictions placed on evangelical activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and more recently of the Pentecostal Church.
In terms of the Austrian law concerning the legal personality of registered religious communities enacted on Dec. 10, 1997, stringent requirements apply to a religious institution if it is to enjoy the status of a state-recognized religion. It must, for example, have existed in Austria for a period of at least 20 years and must have a following of at least 16,000 adherents, which equals 2 percent of the total Austrian population. The legislation paved the way for reducing state-recognized religions from 12 to probably no more than four. Religions not recognized by the government are denied certain benefits, including the right to levy taxes, to conduct religious classes in public schools, to receive state subsidies for their private schools, and to broadcast radio services.
Almost every European country affords a privileged status to one or another religion or religious institution. Perhaps the Netherlands is an exception. And I know Spain is currently trying hard to get there. Proclaiming the separation of church and state or neutrality of the state in matters of religion is in itself simply not enough to gainsay evidence deriving from legislation or practices to the contrary, nor is it an answer to such favoritism to claim a policy of religious tolerance with respect to the other. The concept of toleration carries within it a condescending connotation.
The United States, to the contrary, is not as markedly partisan in matters of religion as its European counterparts, though one must admit that many institutions in the United States do lean toward a preference for Christian values and practices. As to the guarantee of freedom of religion, practices in the United States are also not beyond reproach. In 1998, the United Nations special rapporteur on religious freedom, Professor Abdelfattah Amor of Tunisia, conducted an informal investigation in the United States into compliance in this country with the subject matter of his brief. Although the state of religious freedom in the United States is by and large satisfactory, the special rapporteur found causes for concern in this regard with respect to members of the Arab community being singled out for special scrutiny at airports – and this was before Sept. 11 – and insensitivity of American authorities to the spiritual values of Native Americans.
Countries of the world are still grappling to find an ideal and practical norm to accommodate ecclesiastical varieties and the widest possible spectrum of religious beliefs and practices. It seems to me that neither the United States nor Europe has thus far come up with a feasible alternative to their traditional arrangements. Perhaps the direction to explore might be gleaned from one of the world’s newest democracies, the Republic of South Africa. The political transformation of that country during the early 1990s included abandoning the earlier bias of the legal and political structures in favor of a certain brand of Protestant Christianity.
The new South Africa is indeed not a secular state, but can perhaps best be defined as a religiously neutral state. The constitution is based on a profound understanding of the extreme values of religion beyond the confines of a church building and the inner chamber of a person’s spiritual commitment. South Africa, therefore, does not ban but indeed encourages religious observances in public schools and religious services on state-controlled radio and television, but subject to one overriding condition. Based on the egalitarian foundation of the constitutional ethos, all religions must be granted a fair share in providing or participating in those observances and broadcasts. Thank you.
SAM CHERRIBI: Thank you very much. I want to tell you something about my own background, which I think has given me special insights into different cultures, having been born and raised in Morocco, then moved to the Netherlands, served there as MP [member of Parliament] and then represented the Netherlands in the Council of Europe and the Assembly of the European Union. In 2003 I moved here with my wife and two daughters to teach at Emory, falling back on my Ph.D. in sociology.
I want to make a couple of points from a comparative perspective between the U.S. and the European Union. First, there is no single policy or set of policies in the European Union, and this is evident especially in three main areas – schools, public displays of faith and minorities. Let’s just think about differences by taking a train ride from Amsterdam, the Netherlands through Belgium to France. We’ll take the schools. For example, in the Netherlands you have Islamic schools. In Belgium, there are no Islamic schools, but Islam is taught in regular classes in religious courses in public schools. In France, there are no Islamic schools and there is no teaching of Islam at schools.
Now take public displays of Islam, the veil, for example. In Holland, it is really very interesting to see that in Islamic schools teachers and students are obliged to wear the veil. If they do not wear the veil, they cannot teach or they cannot attend school, which is really very funny. You go to Belgium, it is regulated at the level of the schools. Some schools allow the veil; some don’t. But when you go to France, there is a ban on the veil.
Now, when it comes to minorities, take Holland, for example, and its Islamic organizations. The Netherlands as early as 1986 created an Islamic council, and it became two Islamic councils representing Islamic minorities. In 2002, it became problematic because of the rise of the far right. They stopped the funding of the Islamic council, and it became problematic. Belgium was the first country in Europe to organize a vote asking the Islamic community to support an Islamic council to have real representation in Belgium. But most secular Muslims and modern Muslims didn’t vote. It became a council dominated by fundamentalists.
France, which was very ambiguous for a long time about this council, because France didn’t even ratify the charter of minorities of the Council of Europe, would not recognize that there are linguistic minorities in France, never wanted to have a council. Then, at a given moment, they said maybe our model doesn’t work that much, let’s create a council. They created an Islamic council almost the same as in Belgium. What do you have in that council – also a disproportionate representation of fundamentalists. Well, France just recently created that council.
What I want to say is that by creating those kind of structures, you give the mosque disproportionate powers. And that’s also the ambiguity of Europe, because there is no unified single policy in this enlarged Europe.
My second point is that moderate Muslims are very important to democracies and to European democracies and to what is happening in Europe – that’s why maybe the U.S. has to think about not making the same mistakes made in Europe. I don’t think that the Jeffersonian wall, as Professor Van der Vyver said, will go down if there are public displays of religion.
I will give an example – when Karen Hughes went on al-Jazeera on a visit to the Arab world and at her right hand was a veiled Muslim woman, she was bragging about it and saying, “Look, in France you are not allowed to have somebody like this lady, who is absolutely a very competent lady, wearing a veil. I just want to say, in America we say, so what?” That’s a really interesting example.
I want to mention something else that would be unheard of at a European university. Late one afternoon in 2003, my first fall at Emory University, I heard a recognizable noise, and I was thinking this is the call to prayer. Am I in Fez? Am I in Casablanca? Am I in Algiers? It brought me back to years ago. I followed the sound to the quad, which is a beautiful quad of the university, to this clock tower, which is a landmark at the university, and I saw indeed a call to prayer of Muslim students. American students were just walking by and watching; it was no problem. It is impossible to have this kind of display at any European university. And the Jeffersonian wall is still there.
The interesting thing about the U.S. is that as Alexis de Tocqueville said, it’s a very religious society, but the federal state will make sure that it will stay intact. And so, I would just give as an example – he is also a colleague of Professor Van der Vyver – my colleague President Jimmy Carter, who is teaching at Emory himself. He is a very devout Christian, but at the same time, he wrote this book about endangered values, saying we have to make sure the secular values are still there. I think the American model is much more accommodating with its history of civil rights than the European one, because there is no European model. Thank you.
BILL GALSTON: Well, I’m here to break the Dutch hegemony that has so far been established. My task is to represent, in 10 minutes, the American way. And so, I will not speak comparatively, although I hope in the question and answer period I will have an opportunity to.
I want to divide my brief remarks into three sections. The first, brief comments on some of the basic legal structure of the American way. Second, what this means for the nature of our public discourse. And third, how the American legal structure interacts with American religion to produce what I regard as a distinctive religious form.
With regard to the first of my self-assigned topics, namely, the basic legal framework, I would make four points. First of all, as has been emphasized repeatedly, there is a formal legal norm of separation built into the federal Constitution. But I want to underscore that it did not necessitate that kind of formal separation at the state level. And indeed, at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, a majority of the signatory states had established churches. The First Amendment was drafted in part to immunize those state establishments against federal action.
There was no legal necessity that the state establishments would disappear. It’s very interesting to speculate about the dynamics – the cultural dynamics as well as others – that led to the gradual disappearance of establishments at the state level. But things might have worked out otherwise, and today we might have a bifurcated system with no federal establishment but a variety of state establishments.
The second point – and Professor Van der Vyver has already gestured in this direction – American churches enjoy a very substantial degree of legal autonomy from state interference. By that, I mean that disputes within churches or within congregations over religious doctrine, even when issues of property are implicated in those disputes, are not typically as a doctrinal matter – as a matter of American jurisprudence – adjudicated by our court system. There were, as some of you may know, some very high-profile controversies in England in the 19th century where the House of Lords got involved in adjudicating cases based on its own decision about where the doctrinal equities lay in these sorts of disputes. That negative example from the UK had an important influence on the development of American jurisprudence in the late 19th century and led to this pretty well established doctrine of legal autonomy.
The third legal principle that structures this discussion is the idea – formal separation notwithstanding – of limited cooperation between church and state. Let me give you three examples of this. First, through the tax code – tax exemption is an implicit and not insignificant state subsidy of religious activities in general. Secondly, through the mechanisms of civil society, President Bush’s faith-based initiative brought into higher political relief that kind of financial relationship between the state, on the one hand, and churches and church-related organizations on the other. But I can assure you that the Bush administration did not invent that relationship. Third, and most recently, the Supreme Court has validated school vouchers, at least in limited circumstances – vouchers where public funds will indirectly flow to not only private educational institutions but parochial, church-related schools as well.
The fourth legal principle is the idea of limited accommodation. What happens when there is a clash between general public purposes, as manifested through state policy, on the one hand, and the beliefs and practices of individual religious organizations or individuals on the other? This is a contested area of American jurisprudence. The two cases that are best known in this regard are the famous Wisconsin v. Yoder [in 1972], where the Amish gained an accommodation – a legal exemption – from otherwise binding public policy that mandated school attendance until the age of 16. On the other side, one has the equally famous – and from my standpoint, notorious – Smith decision in 1990, in which a state-based anti-drug policy was allowed to override the peyote-based religious observances of Native Americans.
Topic two – the nature of the public discourse that flows from this legal relationship; here, three points. First of all, despite the best efforts of academic political philosophers, of whom I am one on alternate Tuesdays, religious themes and premises make a prominent and perennial appearance in American public discourse, and I do not expect that to change any time soon. That is not regarded as illegitimate in principle, although when it cuts in a liberal direction, the conservatives object in principle, and if it cuts in a conservative direction, the liberals object in principle. But the non-principle basis of those two objectives is manifest to anyone who steps back and just listens to both simultaneously.
Second, – our pretense of religious neutrality notwithstanding – there is more than a vestige of what might be called an informal establishment of religion in the United States. Various Christian norms and understandings are still quite pervasive in our society and may be drawn upon even for legal purposes. If you don’t believe me, go back and take a look at the Supreme Court cases in which Mormon polygamy was outlawed. What you’ll see over and over again is an invocation of an essentially Christian understanding of what marriage is as the basis of a legitimate jurisprudential argument. One might well ask how those arguments would run today if the issue of polygamy rears its head again; that’s an interesting question. But I would suggest that wherever one looks, one can see important vestiges of this informal Christian establishment.
Third, as we’ve already heard, the American public square is diverse and expressive, rather than naked or secular. We’ve already heard a vivid example of how this diverse and expressive public square manifests itself on a college campus. But that kind of example could be multiplied many times over. We have many controversies in this country, but the kind of controversy that France had about head scarves is not really part and parcel of our debates because of the basic structure of argumentation and law in the United States.
Category three – there is a kind of symmetry or congruence or fit between the nature of the American legal system, on the one hand, and the structure of American religion on the other. And here, three points.
From the very beginning, American individualism at the level of culture has manifested itself in an affinity for the language of conscience in discussions of religion. This goes back hundreds of years; it comes into very high relief in the famous memorial and remonstrance of James Madison, which is – among other things – an extended meditation on conscience and its rights as the basis of religion.
Reflecting this individualism – and this is my second point – American religion is characterized by many of the features of American society and even the American economy. It is highly competitive, innovative and characterized by a high degree of individual choice. There are probably more new religious denominations invented in an average decade in the United States than in an average millennium on the European continent. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing; but it is a fact.
Finally, the 10th and final point that I would make in characterizing what I am calling the American way is the prominence of the Protestant template in determining the structure and function of all religions in the United States. There is this very strong tendency toward congregationalism, lay participation, separationism. If you don’t believe me, just look at the very interesting history of Catholicism in the United States, which – without becoming Protestant – has taken on aspects of Protestantism in its structure and operation. I don’t think it was any accident that it was American Catholicism that produced John Courtney Murray, a man who has – along with the late John Paul II – had such a profound effect on world Catholicism. With that, I will subside. Thank you very much.
JUSTIN VAISSE: Thanks. It should be clear by now that there is not one unified European model. From the situations in which there is an established church, like in Great Britain, where the monarch is still the supreme governor of the Church of England and defender of the faith, to the French case of laïcité, which I will try to explain later on, going through Germany, where there is tax collection for the church of your choice, there is indeed not one single model.
Still, there is no doubt that the comparison between America and Europe is possible. One interesting fact in this regard is the degree of secularism of societies on one side of the Atlantic and the other. I’d like to draw on the Pew Research Center poll of three years ago asking the question whether it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral. In America, the answer was yes, it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral, by 58 percent to 40 percent. In all European countries, at least Germany, Italy, Great Britain and France, as well as Canada, there were minorities who said that it was necessary to believe in God to be moral. The interesting thing is that at one end of the spectrum you had the U.S. – 58 percent said yes – and at the other end of the spectrum you had France, who said by 86 percent that it was not necessary to believe in God to be moral, and only 13 percent said it was. In terms of legality, if you take the EU Treaty, the main Maastricht Treaty, Article 51 devolves to the states this question of regulating the relations between church and state. So that makes clear that it’s a state-by-state – and I would say case-by-case – question.
Rather than trying to do this comparison between Europe as a whole and America, I would like to mention a couple of points on France and the French model versus the U.S. – keeping in mind that only some of the points that I will be making are valid for other European countries and that many of them are valid only for the French case. I’d like to do that, especially because there have been a couple of misrepresentations that I’d like to correct along the way.
I think to understand the French situation I would need to make four very important preliminary remarks. The first one has to do with the way we understand the separation of church and state. Basically, there is a strong separation of church and state here in the U.S. and in France, but in completely opposite terms. In the U.S., you separate church and state because you want to protect churches from the state. In France, by the separation of church and state, we try to protect the state from the church. That comes from history, of course, from the history of the 18th and 19th centuries, where you had the dominant church, the Catholic Church, which was a force that was basically anti-democratic and anti-Republican, in the French sense of the term, and the state had to cut off its ties with this force so as to impose a democracy.
This background is very important to understand all that we are going to talk about now and in the question and answer period. I would not be able to describe it in better terms than Tocqueville did as early as 1835, in Democracy in America, contrasting the European situation – particularly the French situation – with the American one. I am quoting from Chapter 17 of Democracy in America: “The greatest part of British America,” writes Tocqueville, “was peopled by men who, after having shaken off the authority of the Pope, acknowledged no other religious supremacy. They brought with them into the New World a form of Christianity, which I cannot better describe than by styling it a democratic and republican religion. This contributed powerfully to the establishment of a republic and a democracy in public affairs, and from the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance, which has never been dissolved.”
So contrasting this situation of British America that Tocqueville describes and now turning to Europe. “I am fully convinced that this extraordinary and incidental cause is the close connection of politics and religion [in Europe]. The unbelievers of Europe attack the Christians as their political opponents rather than as their religious adversaries. They hate the Christian religion as the opinion of the party much more than as an error of belief, and they reject the clergy less because they are the representatives of the Deity than because they are the allies of government.” So I would not comment on this; I think this stands for itself. That was my first preliminary remark.
The second one is that not only the vision of separation of church and state is understood in reverse terms, but also the image of the state itself – the role of the state itself in society – is understood in reverse terms. The state is not seen with suspicion in France like it is in the U.S. In France, the state is seen more or less as a protector, a guarantor of your freedom and your rights. For example, it’s expected to protect you from religious cults. Religion, on the contrary, is seen with suspicion – that’s my third point – the image of religion is not good. That comes also from history, from the history of the War of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries and for, of course, the history of the 18th and 19th centuries, which I mentioned earlier.
The fourth and last point has to do with the current situation of Islam in Europe and Islam in France in particular. We have very, very different situations in France and the U.S., and a very good quote for this is page three of this morning’s released poll by the Pew Research Center on Muslim Americans. On page three, you have an explanation for why we cannot see things exactly in the same light. In the U.S., Muslims basically come from the brain drain from a very high level of immigration. They are richer and better educated than the rest of the population. They are above average. It’s the reverse in France and in most of Europe. And in the U.S., you don’t have any special, geographic concentration of Muslims like there is in France.
So this said, I’d like to turn to the question of laïcité and what it means exactly. Basically, you can see it as a triangle. The first corner of the triangle is the freedom of conscience, religion and worship – what we call la liberté du culte. That’s the first part of it. The second corner of this triangle is the strict equality between religions and philosophies, including atheism, and the strict neutrality of the state vis-à-vis all these religions and philosophies. And the third, and of course, most polemic part of laïcité – but which laïcité should not be reduced to – is the vigilance and wariness toward undue religious influence on the state – that is the history part that I mentioned earlier – and to some extent, in civil society. And this gets us to the question of head scarves in public school. It is in this third corner that you could find, in Newt Gingrich terms, a culture of radical secularism in France. That’s probably the place where it would be the most evident.
So you can now see where there is a structural complexity in understanding the separation of church and state in France when seen with American glasses, with American eyes. Two very brief examples – the first one is the fight against religious cults. The same day – it’s a funny coincidence – the same day that the U.S. Congress voted the International Religious Freedom Act and instituted the ambassador for religious freedoms, the French National Assembly voted a law basically monitoring and trying to guard against dangerous religious cults. Another example is the head scarf ban. That’s where I am getting to the misrepresentations.
The head scarf ban is only valid in public schools and in no other places. You can go to a city hall. You can go to a consulate or an embassy. You can go to the National Assembly, etc., with a head scarf on; that’s perfectly fine. But school is different. School is different because that’s really the place where the fight against the Catholic Church in the 19th century was waged, and that’s why laïcité concentrates on this battlefield. That’s the only place where it’s banned. And by the way, there are already three Islamic schools in France. There are many others that are sort of growing. This has taken time. But these schools are in the process of receiving the same kind of contract with the state that Catholic schools and Jewish schools have, a sort of understanding by which the state pays for the salary of teachers in exchange for following the regular curriculum and then doing some additional activities – and of course, with the obligation of welcoming children of all religions.
Another misrepresentation is about the CFCM, the French Council for the Muslim Religion, which was instituted five years ago in 2002, which is different from the Belgian one. It basically represents believers and practitioners. It is based on the votes by practitioners, based on the number of square meters of all mosques. So the more square meters you have, the more votes you get to elect this council, which is a representative council. So it doesn’t represent Muslims in general; it only represents believers and practitioners, and it has not been infiltrated or dominated by fundamentalists. On the contrary, it is allowed to make very big improvements, especially in concrete terms, for example, of chaplains in prisons and the military, in terms of halal meat, in terms of lamb slaughter for the Eid festivities, etc.
I guess we’ll get back to this in the questions and answers, so I will conclude now and be glad to take your questions.
CHRIS SOPER: On behalf of my fellow panelists, I’d like to thank the Pew Forum for organizing our conversation on a very timely topic. There is a lot of debate about church-state relations in Europe and the United States. Too little of it is informed. But to its great credit, the Pew Forum – through its various initiatives and its research reports – encourages an informed conversation on what I think everybody in this room would agree is a very important, but often very controversial topic.
My fellow panelists have demonstrated ably that the role of religion in the United States and Europe is in many ways a study of contrasts, and I would argue also of ironies. With the exception of France, the institutional model for church-state relations in Europe is one of close cooperation between the state and the churches or other religious bodies. Typically, European states fund religious schools. There is formal religious worship and instruction in state-run schools, and the government and religious agencies work as partners in providing social welfare services.
The United States, of course, has a strong tradition of church-state separation. It is unlawful for the state to fund private, religious schools. The Supreme Court has barred religious exercises from the public schools, and there remain deep tensions on how close the government may work with religious agencies in the delivery of social services.
Given these policy differences, one can imagine that a Martian sitting in this room would logically conclude that the social significance and political power of religious groups must be greater in Europe than in the United States. But this, of course, could not be further from the truth. Religious groups are a significant factor in party politics in the United States. They are only of marginal significance in Europe. And secularism, which has taken such a firm hold in European states, is much more on the defensive in the United States.
If that irony isn’t juicy enough for you, consider this one. European political elites are often quite keen to move closer to an American model of church-state separation, while many American policymakers would like to move toward the European practice of state accommodation of religious groups, perhaps proving the dictum that the policy grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic. Well, what do we make of these contrasts, and what, if anything, do they portend to the future of church-state relations?
David asked me to serve as cleanup, which I was happy to do, because I was never able to do that in my prodigious Little League baseball career. I am going to offer three hypotheses about what the future might look like on these issues in Europe and the United States. I guess three – Bill also had three, very Trinitarian of us; I guess that presumes certain Christian assumptions, even on this panel.
First of all, I think that we can expect more calls from European political elites for the state to remove itself from the business of recognizing churches and granting them any statutory privileges, moving closer to an American style of church-state separation. Policymakers will argue, with some justification, that the close pact between church and state in Europe is something of a historical anomaly. The immigration and settlement of Muslims will likely hasten this secular policy trend, as elites conclude that the political disputes around religion that are visiting every European country are simply not worth the cost of maintaining the inherited church-state links.
That Muslims in each of these countries tend to be more religious and attach a greater importance to their faith is a further problem for many policymakers who have difficulty contemplating anything but the most privatized of faiths. Like the Peace of Westphalia before it, such a policy will be sold with the claim that it will help to depoliticize religious conflict. That the political experience of France, which has such a system of church-state separation, has hardly led to political peace on the religious front will probably not dissuade those secular policy voices.
A second trend that seems likely, given the presentations that we’ve heard this afternoon, is that there will continue to be conflict on a challenge that is fundamental to any liberal polity. How far can a liberal state go to permit or even promote practices that are apparently illiberal? A related question is this one – to what extent do apparently illiberal and undemocratic voluntary associations, particularly religious institutions, promote patterns of conduct that weaken liberal democratic states? This is particularly relevant as it relates to the Muslim experience in the United States and Europe, but it is fundamentally the same question that is posed to any religious group whose viewpoints are seen to be at odds with those of the liberal culture around them.
As to the first question, can a liberal state tolerate apparently illiberal groups, every country that has been mentioned this afternoon has debated the compatibility of certain forms of Islam with the needs of the liberal polity. That controversy is only going to intensify. It is important to point out, however, that this debate is hardly new. A part of the rationale for the 19th century common school movement in the United States was that American society was supposedly being overwhelmed by millions of hard-to-assimilate Roman Catholic immigrants unschooled in democratic liberal values. Catholic allegiance to a foreign power and a foreign ideology made them suspect in the eyes of many Americans, a charge that historically seems ridiculous but is easier to understand if you read the encyclicals produced by the popes throughout the 19th century.
The rhetoric is nearly identical as it relates to Muslims in the United States and Europe. This is not to suggest that there are not real questions on how best to incorporate religious newcomers into the values of a liberal polity, but simply as a warning that any claims that particular religious groups cannot be assimilated have been made before and have been wrong before. Not to be myopic, but here I believe the experience of the United States is one that can be instructive for West European states, where the assimilative powers of our institutions and practices have successfully incorporated religious groups whose doctrines might seem, or are, incompatible with liberal, political norms. Churches and synagogues have been agents of assimilation in the past, and there is no reason to conclude that mosques cannot do so in the future.
Policymakers would do well, in my view, to take a page from Bill Galston’s very fine book, Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory in Practice. He wasn’t even on my dissertation committee, so I’m doing this just because it was a very good book. In that book he honors the principle of what he calls expressive liberty, a presumption , as he writes, “in favor of individuals and groups leading their lives as they see fit within a broad range of legitimate variation in accordance with their own understanding of what gives life meaning and value.” Here, I think, the United States can learn something from Europe, where at least in its public policy, if not always in its cultural assumptions, the state generally provides its religious citizens a greater scope for their expressive liberty concerns in such areas as education and social welfare provision than does the United States.
A final trend that I foresee is that Christians, Muslims and Jews will form a political coalition to protect the very idea that the state should accommodate, recognize or aid religion. There are voices on both sides of the Atlantic asserting the danger of religion in public life. In considering Turkey’s bid for entrance into the European Union, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin rhetorically asked, do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of European secularism? In his recent best-selling book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris has written of the danger of politically engaged Christians. If such attitudes are indicative of the views of political leaders and policymakers, religionists might well conclude that secularism is a threat that Christians, Muslims and Jews share.
I opened with two ironies in comparing church-state relations in Europe and the United States, and I close with this one. It would be supremely ironic or possibly the work of a benign deity with a supremely active sense of humor if, after centuries of dispute, it was secularism rather than religion that brought religionists together.