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Why Is It Often Claimed That Europe Is Secular While America Is Religious?

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Europe and the United States are two nations that have been considered to be very religious, but their stance on church-state relations are perceived in different ways. Europe is often said to be a secular nation. A few of the reasons that contribute to this perception are: the influx of people from countries all over the world to places in the European Union every year, the decline in church participation by those who identify as religious, strict laws around religious freedom such as the French law on “Secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools” and historical issues leading to a generational decline in religiosity. In America, the Supreme Court has a significant role in relation to religion and religious practices. The First Amendment’s religious clause reads “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” which is in favour of secularism but there is no strict separation of church and state. However, there are reasons which lead people to claim otherwise, such as the country’s national motto says “In God We Trust”, a high percentage of the American population follow Christianity and attend church regularly, government meetings open with Christian prayers encouraging citizens to participate and swearing on the Bible is perceived by people to be compulsory. This essay aims to discuss the reasons for the claims that Europe is considered secular while America is considered religious.

People claim that Europe is a secular nation. One of the main reasons for this is the strict laws that are promoted by some of the countries in Europe. Research by the Pew Research Centre shows that Europe has had a bigger increase than any other country when it comes to the way the government has been limiting religious activities. The number of European countries that have been placing religious restrictions went from five in 2007 to twenty in 2017. Banning of headscarves and face veils is a law that exists in most of the European Union countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Spain. The most common justification for this ban being face veils threaten public and national security. Countries such as Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands provide the reasoning that people who wear a headscarf or face veil find it harder to assimilate into western society. Other countries such as France and Spain feel that face veils diminish the likelihood of “Living together” in society. Austria also argues that promoting face-concealing practices hinders the chances of having an “Open society”. Government interference has also increased in countries in the European Union over the past years. In the year 2012, in Moldova, many councils banned Muslims from worshipping in public and in that very same year male circumcision for non-medical reasons was criminalized in Germany which lead to Muslim and Jewish groups protesting the government interference. These laws, bans and the involvement from the government are justified as a way to endorse secularism and are done to protect the public, public health or morals and the rights and freedom of others.

Migration has resulted in European states becoming more religiously diverse. Research shows that there were approximately 7 million migrants to Europe between mid-2010 and mid-2016. This excludes the 1.6 million people who were granted refugee status in Europe, out of which roughly 78 percent were Muslims. The increase in the different ethnic communities has weakened the prospects of a country having one shared national faith. The number of atheists and agnostics has also been rising. The last UK census of 2011 showed that the number of people who said had no religion had risen from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Findings from the European Social Survey 2014 – 2016 show that the proportion of young adults following no religion are high in countries such as Czech Republic (91%), Estonia (80%), Sweden (75%), UK (70%) and France (64%). It also shows that 70% of Czech and 60% of Spanish, Dutch, British and Belgian young adults ‘never’ attend religious services. In Belgium, only 2% of Catholic young adults attend weekly Mass. This attendance is 3% in Hungary and Austria, 5% in Lithuania, 6% in Germany and 7% in France. The Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate conducted surveys in Europe between 1980 and 2013 and found that the average percentage of Catholics (all ages) saying they attend mass weekly has gone down from 37 percent in the 1980s to 20 percent since 2010.

The diverse culture and population of Europe make it hard for the government to endorse one single faith. Due to this, the measures that countries of the European Union have been taking to promote religious freedom are perceived by people as Europe being a secular nation.

On the other hand, when it comes to America, people claim it to be a religious nation. According to the Religious Landscape Study, which is done by the Pew Research Center, 70.6 percent of the 35,000 people surveyed were Christians, with approximately half of them attending church one to four times a month. Approximately nine – in – ten Americans say they believe in “God or a universal spirit” and a majority of them say this with absolute certainty. There has been an overall drop in religiosity over the years, however, the rate of this decline has been minimal. There has been a bigger drop in the percentage of Americans who believe in God with “Certainty” as compared to the percentage of Americans who just believe in God. People also say that due to Protestants, ideas of self – governance, quality, and freedom integrated with the American lifestyle. The concept of religious freedom helped Protestants to spread their faith and practice through America. This lead to the country having over 300,000 Protestant churches, many of which are popular tourist attractions such a Christ Church in New Jersey which is the oldest American Church.

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When it comes to America’s national motto which is “ In God We Trust”, it appears to be found everywhere such as on U.S currency, state seals and engraved on monuments and in government buildings. For 75 years of the United States’ existence, they minted currency that had no religious affiliations. In the year 1864, during the Civil War, the motto was placed on coins due to the increased religious sentiment. According to the official report of the Mint Director at that time, the inscription was made with the intention of demonstrating the nation’s trust in Jesus. Americans claim that the national motto reiterates a core principle embodied in the Declaration of Independence – that their rights are God-given. The Supreme Court of the United States has also acknowledged that religion plays an important role in American history and society. An example of this is in School District v. Schempp where the Court recognized that “Religion has been closely identified with our history and government.”

Some say that this national motto violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment but the attempts that have been made to challenge the constitutionality of the motto through court appeals, have been extremely unsuccessful.

The Supreme Court plays an important role when it comes to religion, religious institutions and religious practices in America. It is customary for presidents to be sworn in on the Bible by the chief justice of the supreme court. Out of the 45 US presidents, only about 4 haven’t done so. The house of representatives also has their Chaplain who gets elected every 2 years. The Chaplin begins each day’s proceedings with a prayer. America, being a Christian dominated country, religion is a huge part of history and society for the majority of the people. Due to this the practices and events, past and present, lead people to claim that America is a religious nation.

Europe is often seen as secular but that is not the case for all of Europe. Places like England, Greece, the Vatican city and Romania are among a few of the countries that have a strong religious presence. The church of England is the official Christian Church in England. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II is the ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church of England and appoints archbishops, bishops, and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the Prime Minister. In Greece, the term “Orthodox Christianity” has been used to represent the cultural and historical continuity of ancient Greece through Byzantium, to modern Greece. It remains the only Orthodox state in the European Union and acts as a link to Eastern Europe. It was also mandatory to state your religion on your state ID card in Greece up until the year 2000. Vatican City is the center of the worldwide organization of the Roman Catholic church and is also where the pope resides. Their official religion, Roman Catholicism is their primary business. 81% of Romania’s population follows Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Currently, this country has over 12,000 priests and over 400 monasteries. Europe does have countries that are heavily religious however the vast majority of this nation endorses religious freedom and secularism leading to claims that it is secular.

On the contrary, America is seen as a religious country. However, it can also be said that they promote secularism. The first amendment to the constitution states that a person has the right to practice their own religion or no religion at all. There are two parts when it comes to the first amendment: The Establishment Clause and The Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “Respecting an establishment of religion”. This clause stops the government from establishing an official religion and forbids them from being partial towards any particular religion. The Free Exercise Clause reserves the right of American citizens to accept, follow and engage in any religious belief and rituals. It protects religious beliefs but also the actions that are made on behalf of those beliefs. Due to these clauses, America doesn’t have an official religion and the government is not allowed to support any religion financially. There has also been a rise in the number of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “no religion”. According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018 and 2019, the religiously unaffiliated population has gone from 17% to 26% in the last decade. The most important reason for this is that people are starting to question religious teachings. This is also leading to a rising trend in the number of people who consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious. Although an increase can be seen in those with no religious affiliations or non – Christian/ Protestant beliefs, this percentage is inconsequential compared to those who do follow a particular religion. This large number of religious followers overshadow the aspects of secularism and religious freedom that are promoted in this country which encourages the perception and claims that America is religious.

It is often claimed that Europe is secular and America is religious. These perceptions arise from the observations and opinions that people have of the practices that are promoted in each country. Europe is known to have strict laws revolving religious freedom even though it has a high rate of people migrating to its countries each year. The high rate of migration is also leading to difficulties in endorsing one particular faith. Some countries are highly religious as well. However, due to the practices being implemented by the government to promote secularism and the concept of religious freedom people view Europe as more secular than religious. At the same time, the First Amendment of the American constitution promotes secularism as it states that people have the right to follow his/her religion or no religion at all. Although when looking at the vast majority of the population, the number of people who follow Christianity is high. Religion has been a part of American history for years and is incorporated into their lifestyles such as in government activities, currency, and places of worship. This has resulted in America being perceived as religious. Europe and America both have aspects of secularism and religiosity that they promote, however, due to how people view the actions of each nation, one is claimed to be secular while the other religious.


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