Daniel Estrin, reporting for PRI, commented on the drastically different opinions between France and America regarding religion.

France has recently grown a bad reputation when it comes to religious intolerance. The debate about religion has grown more heated since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine in which several editors were killed. One reporter for PRI, Daniel Estrin, took a trip to France to visit his cousins. He was surprised by what he learned while he was there.

Estrin’s first trip to France where he took note of the religious atmosphere in France was in 2003. At the time, the papers held the phrase “Liberte, Egalite, Laicite.” Laicite, meaning secularism, has replaced the previous phrase for brotherhood. A law had just been approved that forbid students in public schools from having religious symbols displayed on their person, or anywhere else for that matter. What struck Estrin the hardest was that “the US enshrined freedom of religion while France embraces freedom from religion.” In a debate with his cousins, he learned more about their views on the matter through stories and examples.

His cousin, Ivan, explained that there was a reason he was in France. “I’m here because I want the religion, and the religious people, to stay away from the Republic. If we want to live together, we have to respect laws of the Republic and keep religion at home.” The statements were shocking for an American, but they are every day for the French. His other cousin nailed the issue home, explaining a situation she found herself in on a train.

“A lady came with a black dress, only her face was not covered… It hurts me. And the same thing about Jewish people. I can’t stand that.” She believes it is announcing you are different, and you don’t want to be a part of the French community. While in America, community means groups and religious societies and even simply where you live, France is one big society. Anyone who wants to be a part of a religion appears to want to be apart from the society of France.

The younger generations, however, seem to want things to change. While the editor-in-chief for Bondy Blog says there are no communities in France, Imane Youssfi, an editor for the same blog, disagrees, “to say no community is to ask them to erase their identity.” According to a French journalist, Sophie Gherardi, many young people feel “a longing for belonging.”

Many Jewish people want to leave France, particularly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The attacks preceded the government stepping up security at their temples. Currently, in order to enter the synagogue, you must recite a Jewish prayer by heart to the heavily armed security guards.


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