The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion

By Hilal Elver | Go to book overview

8
The United States
FROM MELTING POT TO ISLAMOPHOBIA

It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding
Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit,
for instance, by dictating what clothes Muslim women
should wear.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA, CAIRO, June 2009

In the United States, the headscarf debate has received less public attention than in Europe and Turkey. For the United States, these issues are embedded in a broader debate about the role of religion in public space generally and in public schools in particular.1 Americans mostly view clothing styles dictated by religion and culture as a private matter, outside the realm of legitimate intervention by state or society. Moreover, the United States is probably the most religiously observant country among Western industrialized nations. Although the majority is Protestant, many religious practices are freely exercised and enjoy wide acceptance because the constitution contains a particularly liberal approach to religious freedom. Secularism in the United States is strikingly different in its applications than the French and Turkish models of laïcité and Germany’s idea of the “Christian Occident.”2 In the United States, religion is fully entitled and expected to be a player in the public sphere.3

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, in addition to ensuring freedom of speech, addresses religious activities by delineating the structural relationship between church and state as well as guaranteeing individual freedom from state coercion. The first part of the First Amendment sets forth the establishment clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) while the second (“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) posits the free exercise clause. Both clauses together regulate the

-153-

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The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1- Introduction Point of Departure 1
  • Part One- Turkey 13
  • 2- The Nature of the Headscarf Controversy in Turkey Popular Discourse 15
  • 3- Understanding a Complex History 41
  • 4- The Role of the European Court of Human Rights 72
  • Part Two- Europe and the United States 99
  • 5- Anti-Islamic Discourses in Europe 101
  • 6- France 111
  • 7- Germany 129
  • 8- The United States from Melting Pot to Islamophobia 153
  • 9- Conclusion 186
  • Notes 202
  • Selected Bibliography 249
  • Index 259
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