Why Muslims in Europe back Christianity in public schools

Europe, for all of its secularization, remains a collection of Christian nations. They often support state-churches, display Christian symbols, and provide religious education. How do Muslim migrants fit into such societies? New research that they support the rights of Christians—they just want to be treated the same.

Research out of Germany using a large survey of six European countries compared support for religious rights among native, Christians and migrant Muslims. The research asked about religious rights in education for Christians and Muslims. For example, for religious education, the survey asked about agreement with two statements (randomly ordered)

“Public schools should offer Christian religious education for those who want it”

“Public schools should offer Muslim religious education for those who want it”

The researchers compared native, Christian Europeans and migrant Muslims.

For Muslim education, the results are what one might expect: migrants support it more than natives do.

The interesting result is support for Christian religious education. Support among migrants for providing Christian education is even higher than among natives.

The same phenomenon occurs when asking about religious symbols. Migrants support both teachers who wear a headscarf and teachers who wear a cross. Natives are much less supportive of Muslim attire. They are ok with Christian symbols, but Muslims are more supportive.

Why do we see this pattern? Why do native, Christian Europeans switch their support for religion in schools depending on whether it is Christian or Muslim but migrants support both Christianity and Islam?

The researchers find that the reason is the difference in power. Christians are in a privileged position. They have the power to promote the dominant religion and deny equality to other religions. Muslims are an out-group. They’re a religious minority that cannot take away the rights of others in Europe. The best way to obtain their rights is to argue for equality.

Among natives there was an interesting split between secular and religious Christians. Those who were more religious were more supportive of Muslim rights and equality. The opposition to Islamic symbols and education in public schools was greater among secular Europeans. The researchers suggest that more religious Christians are themselves and out-group in secularized Europe who want to keep religion in the public schools. And like Muslims, these religious Christians want to assert their rights by protecting the rights of others.