Report of the National Federation of Freethought (Libre Pensée)

The Constitution of October 4, 1958 provides that the French Republic is democratic, secular and social. Moreover, the law of December 9, 1905, which has a constitutional range, institutes the separation of the Churches and State. Its article 2 provides that state, regional and local authorities do not recognize, salary or subsidize any religion. However, the taxpayers who reside in France assure in thousand ways public funding of religions and of the moral persons of private law asserting a religious orientation. The Catholic Church is the principal recipient of this public funding.

The aid authorized by the State and the territorial collectivities to private schools constitute the first public funding source of religions. It benefits almost exclusively to the Roman sect. Much less important in absolute value are the sums allocated to the worships in 3 departments of Eastern France: Moselle, Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, on the basis of the Concordat of 1801, and in the overseas communities, in accordance with the Mandel decrees of 1939 and with the law of 1828 enacted by Charles X, that on the other hand have extremely strong symbolic contents. Finally, benefits package and tax benefits, and many other government aid feed by a thousand and one channels the pouch of religions.

Government Aid to Private Schools

a. general and technical private schools

From now on inserted in the Education Code, the modified law of December 31, 1959 ensures the bulk of the funding of some 8200 private schools under contract, almost all catholics, that accomodate a little more than two million pupils, that is to say 17% of the total of schoolchildren. The State takes care of the wages of the 140.000 teachers practicing in these private primary schools, secundary schools and high schools, and allocates to them a fixed amount for day school, declined in about twenty rate intended to deal with remunerations of the other categories of personnel, with the exception of the technicians and workmen of service (TOS) whose wages are covered by a fixed amount paid by the departments and regions since January 1, 2007, in accordance with the decentralization law of August 13, 2004. Increasing of 3,38% compared to 2011, the program 139 of the initial finance law for 2012 sets to 7,1 billion euros the estimated State commitments, including 658 million for the fixed amount for day school which was more than 800 million euros in 2005. This reduction corresponds to the fact that now the departments and the regions are responsible for the sum that covers the TOS wages which can thus be valued at 150 million euros at least. Whereas 16.000 posts are cut in public education, the State agreed in 2012 four million euros to finance extra jobs in private catholic education.

According to the terms of the article 442-5 of the Education Code resulting from the law of December 31, 1959, the territorial authorities take care of “the functioning expenses of the classes under contract […] under the same conditions as those of the corresponding classes of public education.” . It concerns the communes and the intermunicipal corporation public schools (EPCI) for the elementary classes and, if necessary nursery schools, of the departments for secundary schools and of the regions for high schools. The 2012 budget special rapporteurs in the Senate note in this connection: “Base the number of pupils on the revalorization of the fixed amount, which is a relatively dynamic expenditure, can create a expedient in favour of the enrolment of a growing number of pupils in private education to the expense of public education.”

So the communes and the EPCI pay an average fixed amount of 550 euros per pupil and per annum. However, it can vary from 400 to 1.500 euros according to unexplained reasons, or to a generous interpretation of the law by some elected representatives. Moreover, in accordance with the law of October 28, 2009, the communes of residence of children going to private schools located apart from their limits pay to those schools the fixed amount covering this expenditure when at least one of the four following conditions is fulfiled: insufficient capacity of the commune of residence, medical reasons, in case of parents’ « professional obligations », or when a brother or a sister is already going to school out of the commune. Altogether, the sums allocated by the commune to catholic primary education can be roughly estimated at 500 million euros.

The departments and the regions pay two fixed amounts, one due in accordance with the article L. 442-5 of the Education Code and the TOS part corresponding the fixed amount for day school. Like the council fixed amount, the first is going through strong variations from one collectivity to another, according to the influence of Catholic church. It goes from 160 euros for the private secundary schools of the department of Ariège, a land of Freethought, to 483 euros for those in Cantal, clerical territory, and from 240 euros for catholic high schools in Haute-Normandie to 644 euros for those of Bourgogne. The total cost is probably of 350 million euros. As for the TOS fixed amount, it represents a new expenditure from 150 to 200 million for the departments and the regions. The differences are important: 310 euros in Corrèze instead of 210 in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, and 556 euros in the region of Franche-Comté and 195 in Midi-Pyrénées. In an information report of November 2010 about the transfers of personnel costs from the State to the territorial collectivities, two senators note that “the elected representatives noticed an increase in the cost of this fixed amount which varies from 40 to 60%, with constant workforce and without any visible connection with the developpement of the public education TOS wage bill.”

Lastly, on the base of the provisions of the Education Code drawn from the 1850 Falloux Law, the 1919 Astier Law and the 1959 Debré Law, the State and the territorial collectivities can give investment grants to private primary and secundary schools. In general education, the aid amount is limited to 10% of the operating costs. In technical education, the law does not set any limit.

b. private agricultural schools

Secondary agricultural education represents more than half of initial training offer in this professional sector. It accomodates approximately 110.000 pupils, of which 50.000 follow a alternate course. This significant proportion is the result of catholic action in rural areas. It also proceeds of the provisions of the law of December 31, 1984 which grants to private agricultural education benefits equivalent to those provided for by the law of December 31, 1959 in favour of general and technical catholic education. The State bears teaching personnel wages of private agricultural schools as well as a fixed amount for operating expenses which includes three rates: the one that paid for each day pupil, the one that paid for each school luncher and the one that paid for each boarder.

If the payment of the teachers’ salaries remains stable, that is to say a little less than 214 million euros in 2011 and 2012, on the other hand the fixed amounts have known a very strong increase. Those for 2012, which respectively reach 1619 (day pupils), 1655 (school lunchers) and 2.800 euros (boaders), are higher of approximately 20% than those for 2008. This is the consequence of a protocol concluded in 2009 between the State and the representatives from private agricultural education. The total expenditure for the State reaches 125 million euros instead of 100 million five years earlier.

c. The apprenticeship tax

The apprenticeship tax to which the companies are subjugated represents 0,5% of the gross salaries paid the year preceding its collection. If the State theoretically collects it, nevertheless it is recovered by the consular organizations (chambers of craft, chambers of trade). The latter are entitled to transfer part of this tax to the vocational training schools they choose or to those indicated by the taxpaying companies.

This collection plan introduces a distortion into the allocation of sums which favours private catholic education. According to the last gathered informations, the amount by pupil of the apprenticeship tax reaches per annum 332 euros in private education instead of 179 euros in public education. Religion and capital are very compatible.

The Concordat

The Concordat of 1801 is an international treaty between the First Consul and the Vatican, and supplemented by the organic articles, a decree of March 17, 1808 and an ordinance of May 25, 1844. After very daring legal reasoning, validated by a law of June 1, 1924 after the World War I, the French governments of 1919 and 1944 considered that it had been maintained in force since its publication, in spite of the periods of German occupation from 1870 to 1918 and from 1940 to 1944. It recognizes four worships: the Catholic Church, the Jewish religion, the Reformed Church and the Church of the Augsburg confession. It was supplemented by two appendices: a german law convention concluded in December 1902 with the Holy See laying down the management and funding methods of the theological faculty of Strasbourg; the agreement of May 25, 1974 signed between the French Republic and the Vatican relating to the autonomous center of religious pedagogy teaching (CAEPR) of Metz whose legal validity is open to doubt since the fusion of the universities of Metz and Nancy.

Other territories of the French Republic are not subjected to the separation of the Churches and State instituted by the law of December 9, 1905. Guyana, Wallis and Futuna, Saint-Pierre-and-Miquelon, French Polynesia, Mayotte and New Caledonia come under the Mandel decrees of 1939 or the ordinance of Charles X of 1828.

In 2012, the State will support a total expenditure of 58 million euros whose most significant part corresponds to the salaries of the 1.400 ministers of the three concordat departments. It is necessary to add to this sum the amount of the monks salaries paid by the department of Guyana as well as the pensions allocated by the State to the retired ministers, that is to say from 15 to 20 million euros.

Other Government Aid to Religions

On the occasion of this report, all the government aid to religions cannot be examined. The most important social and tax aspects as well as the aid to movable and immovable assets will only be evoked.

a. Tax and social aspects

In terms of commercial activity taxation, most of the worship and diocesan associations as well as congregations come under the tax provisions applicable to associations subject to the law of July 1, 1901. However, they do not automatically receive allowance provided for by the article 206-1 bis of the General Tax Code. Their commercial activities are thus duitable as from the first euro except if they establish that their management is provided by voluntary people, that their benefits are not paid out and that their assets are not likely to be transmitted to their members or to the right-holders. On this point, it seems that Inland Revenue gets out of the way of worship associations managed by employees continuing commercial activities. In addition, a circular of 1966 exonerates from corporation tax, in absence of any legal base, the congregations which manufacture and sell objects designed for the exercise of worship.

The places of worships open to public are exonerated from council tax and property tax when they belong to the public communities or were allocated to worship associations in accordance with to the article 4 of the separation of the Churches and State law of December 9, 1905 and the article 112 of the law of April 29, 1926. However, in a ruling of June 23, 2000, the Council of State allowed an Jehovah’s Witnesses association, founded in accordance with the law of July 1, 1901, to be exempted of those taxes in spite of the limits established by the article 1382-4° of the General Tax Code.

Unless they are officially recognised non-profit organisations, associations of the law of July 1, 1901 cannot receive liberalities (donations and legacies). Nevertheless, since the law of the French State of December 25, 1942 has come into force, after having modified the law of 1905 and after being used again in the article 795 of the General Tax Code, the worship and diocesan associations as well as the congregations are exempt from common law and receive an exemption of registration duties. In addition, they can receive patronage aid which give the sponsor a 66% tax reduction of the paid amount. The funds collected by the dioceses come under this system. The State tax expenditure would reach from 100 to 125 million euros.

In accordance with the article 757 of the General Tax Code, the manual donations given by the faithful to their worship representatives are not subjected to an obligation of declaration. On the other hand, they must be declared and they become taxable to the 60% rate when Inland Revenue carries out a control. On June 30, 2011, after an action carried out by the government and allegedly directed against the sects, the European Court of Human Rights (CEDH) judged that France had violated the article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of November 4, 1950 by taxing without consultation the manual donations given by faithful to the Jehovah’s Witnesses association, from 1993 to 1996. Thus, the French administration will be even more cautious than in the past to check the manual donations granted to the Catholic church (134 million euros in 2003) which receives thanks to this an indirect 80 million euros tax aid.

Concerning social aid, it is necessary to report the sums granted to the National Association of family associations (UNAF), 95% of those associations are catholic ones, and the balancing subsidy to the social security scheme of the worships, which is added to the compensation transfers between scheme and to the allocation of one part of the generalized social contribution (CSG). The aid granted to the UNAF and the balancing subsidy represent an aid of more than 100 million euros.

b. Aid to movable and immovable assets

Firstly, in accordance with the law of April 13, 1908 voted as a result of the actions carried out by the Catholic Church against the law of December 9, 1905, « the State, the departments and the communes [can] undertake necessary expenditure for the conservation and the maintenance of religious buildings which they own by [this text]. » . What can be concidered as a simple right is actually an obligation insofar as the damages likely to wrong people because of a bad maintenance of the buildings invest the community civil liability and the criminal liability of the elected representative who exerts the executive function there. Very often, the local councils go beyond the conservation and maintenance of the religious buildings. The Council of State reinforces these drifts. Thus, by a ruling of July 19, 2011, the supreme administrative jurisdiction declared legal the funding of an organ placed in a church that did not have one on the bases that the instrument was used at the same time for the celebration of worship and for the cultural activity of the commune.

Secondly, in accordance with the article 19 of the law of December 9, 1905 modified by the one of December 25, 1942, the government aid granted to religions in order to finance « the repairs » of private religious buildings are not concidered as grants so they are legal. The Church considers that these arrangements, although very favorable, are from now on insufficient. The primat des Gaules recommended to sell to local authorities for one euro all the private religious buildings built during the Twenties and Thirties in order to make the taxpayers pay for the renovation of the old buildings, sometimes initially financed in an illegal way by the State through “les chantiers du cardinal”.

Lastly, the article L. 1311-2 of the General Code of Territorial Collectivities stipulates that the local authorities can concede by emphyteusis, that is to say by a long lease (from eighteen to ninety nine years), property rights on dependences of their public as well as private estate, to legal persons of private law for the accomplishment of a public service mission or of an general interest action, as well as, since 2006, of religious celebrations. Following many actions before the administrative jurisdictions, some of them introduced by the National Federation of Freethought, the government intended clarify a text that many town councilors had used to cover land expenses (from 15 to 25% of the transaction cost from region to region) that confessions should have paid to build new places of worship. Indeed, the long beams stipulate, in almost all cases, a token rent, which amounts to allocating to the worships the indirect subsidies, illegal taking into consideration the article 2 of the law of December 9, 1905. However, the extension of the field of the article L. 1311-2 of the General Code of Territorial Collectivities is not enough to make them legal. Facing this difficulty, by making a legal strike, with another ruling of July 19, 2011, the Council of State judged that a commune had to grant to a worship the use of a vast land to build a place of prayer, with a ninety nine years lease and for a token one euro rent. To justify such a position, that nothing in law allows to establish, the supreme administrative jurisdiction estimated, in a Praetorian way, that the legislator had intended to derogate from the law of December 9, 1905, by widening the application field of the article L. 1311-2 of the General Code of the Territorial Collectivities. The sums are impossible to determine but very important.


In 2006, at the end of a meticulous investigation of the affiliated departmental federations, the National Federation of Freethought had published « The Black Book of the attacks against Secularism» in which it concluded that the government aid to religions reached on approximately ten billion euros, a sum not very different from the one resulting from a concordat. The updating accomplished within the framework of the «purple economy » campaign engaged by the International Association of Freethought confirms this first diagnosis. The situation has even worsened during the last years.