Religion, discrimination and assimilation: a comparison of contemporary France and the United States
France and the United States are both secular Western countries that are founded upon similar Enlightenment ideals. By virtue of these similarities, one might expect these countries to have similar relationships between church and state. In actuality, however, the secularism that France and the United States both value is a very loosely defined concept whose interpretation and application can widely vary. Specifically, these countries sharply differ in how they interpret the principle of segregation of church and state, how they organize religious diversity, and how the state treats it. Each of these countries’ relationships with religion profoundly affects the assimilation of a minority group. France interprets its secularism as a stark relegation of religion to the private sphere, and in passing the recent headscarves ban, has introduced barriers for the nation’s Muslim subpopulation. Meanwhile, the United States’ culture of religiosity allows for private matters, such as sexual orientation, to become a public concern, as is the case in the ongoing debate surrounding same-sex marriage. While both countries’ debates discuss religion’s role with respect to the preservation of national integrity, France and the United States should instead recognize that they are actually depriving these minorities of a sense of national belonging and work to encourage further civic assimilation.