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1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State

1905 french law on the separation of the churches and the state
The 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and State French: loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et de l'État was passed by the Chamber of Deputies on 9 December 1905 Enacted during the Third Republic, it established state secularism in France France was then governed by the Bloc des gauches Left Coalition led by Emile Combes The law was based on three principles: the neutrality of the state, the freedom of religious exercise, and public powers related to the church This law is seen as the backbone of the French principle of laïcité secularism


  • 1 History
  • 2 Provisions
    • 21 Title I: Principles
    • 22 Title II: Allocation of property, pensions
    • 23 Title III: Buildings of worship
    • 24 Title IV: Associations for the exercise of religion
    • 25 Title V: Regulation of religious associations
    • 26 Title VI: General Provisions
  • 3 Effects
  • 4 Politics
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


Prior to the French Revolution of 1789, Roman Catholicism had been the state religion of France, and closely identified with the Ancien Régime1 However, the revolution led to various policy changes, including a brief separation of church and state in 1795,2 ended by Napoleon's re-establishment of the Catholic Church as the state religion with the Concordat of 18011 An important document in the evolution toward religious liberty was Article Ten of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, stating that "No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order"3 The 1871 Paris Commune had proclaimed state secularism on 3 April 1871, but it had been cancelled following the Commune's defeat45

After the 16 May 1877 crisis and the victory of the Republicans at the following elections, various draft laws requesting the suppression of the Concordat of 1801 were deposed, starting with the 31 July 1879 proposition of Charles Boysset67 Beginning in 1879, the French state began a gradual national secularization program starting with the removal of priests from the administrative committees of hospitals and boards of charity, and in 1880 with the substitution of lay women for nuns in hospitals89 Thereafter, the Third Republic established secular education with the Jules Ferry laws in 1881–1882, which were a significant part of the firm establishment of the Republican regime in France, with religious instruction in all schools forbidden6

In 1886, another law ensured secularisation of the teaching staff of the National Education1011

1904 Demonstration at Fields of Notre Dame in Paris

Other moves towards secularism included:

  • the introduction of divorce and a requirement that civil marriages be performed in a civil ceremony12
  • legalizing work on Sundays1314
  • making seminarians subject to conscription1415
  • secularising schools and hospitals812
  • abolishing the law ordaining public prayers at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session and of the assizes1416
  • ordering soldiers not to frequent Catholic clubs17
  • removing the religious character from the judicial oath and religious symbols from courtrooms18
  • forbidding the participation of the armed forces in religious processions14

The 1901 Law of Associations, which guaranteed freedom of association, also enabled the control of religious communities and, notably, limited their influence on education19 In 1903, while Emile Combes was minister, a commission was selected to draft a bill that would establish a comprehensive separation between the state and the churches1420 Its president was the former Protestant pastor Ferdinand Buisson, and its minute writer, Aristide Briand21

On 30 July 1904, the Chamber of Deputies voted to sever diplomatic relations with the Vatican22 following the sanction, by the Holy See, of two French bishops Albert-Léon-Marie Le Nordez and Pierre Joseph Geay who had declared themselves Republicans and in favour of conciliation with the Republic23 The relationship was not reestablished until 1921, after the Senate accepted a proposition brought by Aristide Briand24


The first page of the bill, as brought before the Chambre des Députés in 1905

Title I: Principlesedit

  • Article 1 describes the purpose of the act, which is to ensure "freedom of conscience" and to guarantee "the free exercise of religion under the provisos enacted hereafter in the interest of public order"25
  • Article 2 states that "The Republic does not recognize, pay, or subsidize any religious sect Accordingly, from 1 January following the enactment of this law, will be removed from state budgets, departments and municipalities, all expenses related to the exercise of religion"25 Exceptions are ennumerated regarding "schools, colleges, schools, hospitals, asylums and prisons" so as "to ensure the free exercise of religion in public institutions"25

Title II: Allocation of property, pensionsedit

  • Article 3 mandates that an inventory be conducted of all houses of worship previously supported by the government25
  • Article 4 establishes a one-year period during which all "movable and immovable property of menses, factories, priests' councils, presbyteries and other public institutions of worship" will comply with the rules for establishing legal associations under Article 1925
  • Article 5 directs all property found during the inventory "not subject to a pious foundation created after the law of 18 Germinal Year X" be turned over to the government25
  • Article 6 affirms that all loans made to religious organizations previously supported by the state must still be repaid25
  • Article 7 assigns the authority to assess properties of the religious organizations to the prefect governing the department in which the property is located25
  • Article 8 spells out the consequences for non-compliance with the above articles25
  • Article 9 details the methods of distribution of properties not claimed by the religious institutions to charitable organizations and local municipalities This article was modified in 201525
  • Article 10 details regulations regarding the taxation of mortgages and transfers of propertyThis article was modified in 201525
  • Article 11 established pensions for certain clerics and employees of religious institutions This article was repealed in 201125
The Republican motto "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" was put on in 1905 following the French law on the separation of the state and the church to show that this church was owned by the state

Title III: Buildings of worshipedit

  • Article 12 declares that all buildings which the state has made available to religious organizations will remain the property of the state pursuant to the provisions in the following articlesThis article was amended in 199825
  • Article 13 specifies that the "buildings used for public worship, and movable objects furnishing them will be left free of charge to public institutions of worship", details the methods by which disputed ownership may be determined, and describes procedures for reclamation of properties and fixtures abandoned by religious organizations This article was modified in 201525
  • Article 14 provides the same directives as Article 13 for "Archdioceses, bishoprics, parsonages and their dependencies, major seminaries and faculties of Protestant theology"25
  • Article 15 specifies that, "in the departments of the Savoy, the Haute Savoie and Alpes-Maritimes" buildings used "for the exercise of worship or for the accommodation of their ministers" may be "allocated by villages on the territory from which they are" pursuant to Article 12, while "cemeteries remain the property of the villages"25
  • Article 16 creates a special category for "buildings for public religious worship cathedrals, churches, chapels, temples, synagogues, archbishops, bishops, presbyters, seminaries, in which will be included all of these buildings representative in whole or in parts, artistic or historical value"25
  • Article 17 establishes that the sale of any buildings covered by the above articles shall be offered to: "1 religious associations; 2 communes; 3 departments; 4 Museums and art and archaeology societies; 5 to the state," in that order25

Title IV: Associations for the exercise of religionedit

  • Article 18 declares that religious associations formed consistent "with Articles 5 and following of Title I of the Act of July 1, 1901" shall be "further subject to the requirements of this law"25
  • Article 19 details the types and size of organizations to which this law shall apply This article was modified in 2009 and in 201125
  • Article 20 allows associations compliant with "Article 7 of Decree of 16 August 1901" to form unions25
  • Article 21 requires inventory reporting and auditing of associations and unions This article was modified in 201525
  • Article 22 restricts reserve funds to the "costs and maintenance of worship" This article was modified in 201525
  • Article 23 states the consequences of failure to comply with above mandates This article was modified in 201525
  • Article 24 exempts buildings used for religious purposes from certain property taxes25

Title V: Regulation of religious associationsedit

  • Article 25 declares that all worship services are to be open to the public25
  • Article 26 bans "political meetings on the premises normally used for the exercise of worship"25
  • Article 27 regulates bell ringing This article was amended in 199625
  • Article 28 bans religious symbols "on public monuments or in any public place whatsoever, except for buildings used for worship, burial grounds in cemeteries, monuments and museums or exhibitions"25
  • Article 29 holds both ministers and congregants responsible for obeying these regulations25
  • Article 30 forbids religious instruction in public schools for students between six and thirteen years of age This article was repealed in 200025
  • Article 31 specifies criminal penalties for any person "who, by assault, violence or threats against an individual or by making him afraid of losing his job or expose to damage his person, his family or his wealth" prevents another person from practicing or contributing to a religious organization The same holds for any person forcing another to participate in or contribute to any religious organization25
  • Article 32 specifies punishment for "those who have prevented, delayed or interrupted the exercises of worship"25
  • Article 33 specifies that Articles 31 and 32 only apply to situations that do not qualify for "more severe penalties under the provisions of the Penal Code"25
  • Article 34 makes religious ministers liable for defamatory and libelous statements made in places of worship This article was amended in 200025
  • Article 35 provides for criminal penalties for seditious statements made by religious ministers in places of worship25
  • Article 36 holds the association involved in any conviction under Articles 25, 26, 34, and 35 civilly liable for any damages25

Title VI: General Provisionsedit

  • Article 37 affirms applicability of "Section 463 of the Penal Code and the Act of March 26, 1891" to this Act25
  • Article 38 "Religious congregations remain subject to the laws of 1 July 1901, December 4, 1902, and July 7, 1904"25
  • Article 39 affirms benefits of certain seminary students granted by "section 23 of the Act of 15 July 1889" contingent upon their receiving ministerial employment25
  • Article 40 restricts religious ministers from election to municipal offices for eight years following ratification of this Act25
  • Article 41 distributes money previously budgeted for supporting churches be distributed to municipalities Repealed2526
  • Article 42 retains legal holidays Repealed2526
  • Article 43 sets a deadline of three months by which measures for implementation will be determined This article was amended in 200725
  • Article 44 specifies previous laws that are to remain in force along with this Act25


An allegorical photograph depicting of the 1905 French Law of Separation of Church and State

The 1905 law put an end to the government funding of religious groups by France and its political subdivisions25 The state had previously agreed to such funding in the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801 as compensation for the Revolution's confiscation of Church properties2728 At the same time, it declared that all religious buildings were property of the state and local governments25 Other articles of the law included the prohibition of affixing religious signs on public buildings, and laying down that the Republic no longer names French archbishops or bishops25

Pope Pius X condemned the law in a 1906 encyclical as a unilateral break of the 1801 Concordat2129

Alsace-Lorraine is still governed by the 1801 Concordat that recognises four religions, but not secularism30 When the 1905 legislation superseded the Concordat elsewhere in France, Alsace-Lorraine was part of the German Empire; thus, the 1905 law has never applied there3132 Similarly, the law has never been applied in the overseas Department of French Guiana as it was a colony in 190531

Although the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State initially was a particularly "painful and traumatic event" for the Roman Catholic Church in France,2933 the French Government began making serious strides towards reconciliation with the Catholic Church later during the 1920s by both recognizing the social impact of organized religion in France and amending the law itself through new legislation and rendering court decisions that were favorable to organized religion in France33 In 1921 the Roman Catholic Church and French State began a series of negotiations for "pacification of law" in respect to both civil and canon law to create a harmonious day-to-day working relationship34 These negotiations culminated in 1926 when Aristide Briand negotiated the Briand-Ceretti Agreement with the Vatican whereby the state reclaimed a role in the process of choosing diocesan bishops34

Pope Pius XII later supported what he called, "la légitime et saine laïcité"35 At Vatican II through the encyclical Gaudium et spes the Church recognized a belief in a non-confessional state, that the Church should not be involved in politics and that there should be a fair separation of powers marked by co-operation for the benefit of society36 The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the principle of secularism through its 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, based on the principles of Luke 20:2537 Pope John Paul II first condemned the secular governments and called for "the public profession of Christianity,"38 but upon the 2005 centennial of the law made more conciliatory statements, including: “The non-confessionality of the State, which is a non-involvement of the civil power in the life of the Church and of the different religions, as in the spiritual domain, enables all the parts of society to work together in the service of all and of the national community”39


A caricature of Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu-Martin, Minister of Public Instruction, forcing the separation

The leading figures in the creation of the law were Aristide Briand,14 Émile Combes,14 Jean Jaurès40 and Francis de Pressensé41

The 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State declared that cathedrals remained the property of the state and smaller churches that of the local municipal government25 Those public authorities had to hand over the buildings to religious organizations associations culturelles representing associated formed of laymen, instead of putting them directly back under the supervision of the church hierarchies25

These laymen associations created under the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State were independent legal entities having rights and responsibilities in the eyes of the law in all matters appertaining to money and properties formerly owned in France by organized religions: churches and sacred edifices, ecclesiastical property, real and personal; the residences of the bishops and priests; and the seminaries These laymen associations were also authorized by the law to act as administrators of church property, regulate an collect the alms and the legacies destined for religious worship21 The resources furnished by Catholic liberality for the maintenance of Catholic schools, and the working of various charitable associations connected with religion, were also transferred to lay associations21

Implementation of the law was controversial, due in some part to the anti-clericalism found among much of the French political left at the time14 The law angered many Roman Catholics, who had recently begun to rally to the cause of the Republic, supported by Leo XIII's Inter innumeras sollicitudines 1892 encyclical Au Milieu des sollicitudes42 and the Cardinal Lavigerie's toast in 1890 favour of the Republic43 However, the concept of laïcité progressively became almost universally accepted among French citizens, including members of the Catholic Church who found greater freedom from state interference in cultural matters, now that the government had completely stripped itself of its former Catholic links3144 The Affaire Des Fiches produced a considerable backlash, after it was discovered that the Combes government worked with Masonic lodges to create a secret surveillance of all army officers to make sure devout Catholics would not be promoted45

A few French politicians and communities have more recently questioned the law, arguing that, despite its explicit stance for state secularism, it de facto favors traditional French religions, in particular the Catholic Church, at the expense of more recently established religions, such as Islam46 Indeed, most Roman Catholic churches in the country were built well before the enactment of the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State, and thus are maintained at full public expense,25 although not always on time and to the extent that the church would like47 With the exception of the historically anomalous Alsace-Lorraine,30 followers of Islam and other religions more recently implanted in France instead have to build and maintain religious facilities at their own expense48 This was one of the arguments used by Nicolas Sarkozy, when he was Minister of Interior, to controversially argue in favour of funding other cultural centers than those of Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism49 In 2016, President Hollande proposed a temporary ban on foreign funding for mosques50 and shut down at least 20 mosques found to be "preaching radical Islamic ideology"51 These actions are consistent with Title V, Articles 26, 29, and 35 of the law25

See alsoedit

  • Catholic Church in France
  • Concordat of 1801
  • French legislation for the prevention and repression of cultic groups
  • Law of December 9, 1905, concerning the separation of Church and State from Wikisource in French
  • State secularism


  1. ^ a b Betros, Gemma 1 December 2010 "The French Revolution and the Catholic Church" HistoryToday Archived from the original on 13 April 2016 Retrieved 31 July 2016 
  2. ^ Aggarwal, Manta "The Directory 1795–99: Framing of the Constitution of France" HistoryDiscussionnet Archived from the original on 2 July 2015 Retrieved 31 July 2016 
  3. ^ 100th Anniversary of Secularism in France, Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life
  4. ^ April 3, 1871, decree of the Paris Commune proclaiming state secularism in French
  5. ^ Gopnik, Adam 22 December 2014 "THE FIRES OF PARIS Why do people still fight about the Paris Commune" The New Yorker Archived from the original on 19 March 2016 Retrieved 31 July 2016 
  6. ^ a b Bloy, Marjorie 11 November 2013 "European History" A Web of English History Archived from the original on 9 March 2016 Retrieved 1 August 2016 
  7. ^ "Dean of French Chamber Dead" The New York Times 24 May 1901 Archived from the original on 1 August 2016 Retrieved 1 August 2016 In the Chamber M Boysset was a consistent Radical Republican, supporting all measures introduced by his party He was an ardent advocate of legislation against the religious associations 
  8. ^ a b Clark, Linda L 21 December 2000 The Rise of Professional Women in France Cambridge: Cambridge University Press p 86 ISBN 9781139426862 Retrieved 1 August 2016 
  9. ^ McAuliffe, Mary 16 May 2011 Dawn of the Belle Epoque Rowman & Littlefield Publishers pp 87–91 ISBN 9781442209299 
  10. ^ Raymond, G 11 October 1999 Structures of Power in Modern France Springer p 118 ISBN 9780333983645 Retrieved 1 August 2016 
  11. ^ Sowerwine, Charles 8 January 2009 France since 1870 Palgrave Macmillan p 34 ISBN 9781137013859 Retrieved 1 August 2016 
  12. ^ a b Chastain, James 20 February 1999 "Divorce and Women in France" Ohioedu University of Ohio Archived from the original on 22 March 2016 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  13. ^ Warner, Carolyn M 27 March 2000 Confessions of an Interest Group Princeton University Press p 62 ISBN 9781400823680 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Guerlac, Othon 1 June 1908 "The Separation of Church and State in France" Political Science Quarterly Vol 23 No 2: 259–296 JSTOR 2141325 doi:102307/2141325 
  15. ^ Holmes, J Derek; Bickers, Bernard 5 August 2002 Short History of the Catholic Church A&C Black p 247 ISBN 9780860123088 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  16. ^ Mayeur, Jean-Marie; Rebirioux, Madeleine; Foster, J R 1987 The Third Republic from Its Origins to the Great War, 1871–1914 Cambridge University Press p 83 ISBN 9780521358576 
  17. ^ "The Catholic World" Papers Past New Zealand Tablet 28 April 1904 Archived from the original on 1 August 2016 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  18. ^ Court Room Christianity Cornell University 1904 p 51 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  19. ^ "Education in France" Report of the Commissioner of Education 1900–1901 The United States Bureau of Education 1 September 1903 p 1106 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  20. ^ Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg; Benians, Ernest Alfred 1910 Mowat, C L, ed The Cambridge Modern History, Volume 12 The University Press p 122 ISBN 9781139055888 
  21. ^ a b c d "The Law of 1905" Musée virtuel du Protestantisme 
  22. ^ Coppa, Frank J 1999 "Chapter 7 Papal intransigence and infallibility in an age of liberalism and nationalism" The Modern Papacy, 1798–1995 Routledge ISBN 9781317894889 Retrieved 2 August 2016 On 30 July 1904 the French terminated diplomatic relations with the Vatican 
  23. ^ "Break Between France and Rome" Vol 37 Number 6 University of Minnesota Public Opinion 11 August 1904 p 171 Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  24. ^ de Fabregues, J 1 October 1967 "The Re-Establishment of Relations between France and the Vatican in 1921" Journal of Contemporary History Sage Publications Ltd 2 4: 163–182 JSTOR 259828 
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az "Law of 9 December 1905 on the separation of church and state" Legifrance Retrieved 2 August 2016 
  26. ^ a b "Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et de l’État" Wikisource Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  27. ^ Fehér, Ferenc 1990 The French Revolution and the Birth of Modernity University of California Press p 55 ISBN 9780520071209 Archived from the original on 29 May 2010 Retrieved 3 August 2016 
  28. ^ "Napoleon's concordat: Introduction and summary" Concordat Watch Archived from the original on 3 March 2016 Retrieved 3 August 2016 
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  30. ^ a b Erlanger, Steven 6 October 2008 "A Pro-Church Law Helps a Mosque" The New York Times Retrieved 3 August 2016 
  31. ^ a b c Decherf, Dominique 1 July 2001 "French Views of Religious Freedom" Brookings Institution Archived from the original on 3 August 2016 Retrieved 3 August 2016 
  32. ^ Silverman, Dan P 1972 Reluctant union; Alsace-Lorraine and Imperial Germany, 1871–1918 Pennsylvania State University Press ISBN 9780271011110 Retrieved 3 August 2016 
  33. ^ a b "Pope urges French Bishops against unbalanced secularism" Catholic News Agency 14 February 2005 Retrieved 3 August 2016 
  34. ^ a b "EU Federalization: The Briand Plan" EU Funded Pro EU Troll 7 June 2014 Archived from the original on 2 December 2015 Retrieved 3 August 2016 
  35. ^ "Secularism secularism, a legitimate aspiration for his mistakes" ICHTUS 30 November 2012 Archived from the original on 4 August 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  36. ^ Lan T Chu 2013 "Vatican Diplomacy in China and Vietnam" In Seib, P Religion and Public Diplomacy Springer p 60 ISBN 9781137291127 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  37. ^ Martino, Renato 2 April 2004 "COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH" Vaticanva Archived from the original on 2 August 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 The principle of autonomy involves respect for every religious confession on the part of the State, which 'assures the free exercise of ritual, spiritual, cultural and charitable activities by communities of believers In a pluralistic society, secularity is a place for communication between the different spiritual traditions and the nation' 
  38. ^ Hebblethwaite, Peter 1995 Pope John Paul II and the Church Rowman & Littlefield p 181 ISBN 978-1-55612-814-1 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  39. ^ Scott, Peter R 3 March 2005 "Regnavit a ligno Deus HOLY CROSS SEMINARY FATHERS OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT PIUS X" Holy Cross Seminary Archived from the original on 26 February 2009 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  40. ^ Conklin, Alice L; Fishman, Sarah; Zaretsky, Robert 15 July 2014 France and Its Empire Since 1870 Second ed Oxford University Press p 119 ISBN 9780199384440 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  41. ^ Usunier, Jean-Claude; Stolz, Jörg 28 February 2014 Religions as Brands Ashgate Publishing, Ltd p 94 ISBN 9781409467571 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  42. ^ Descouvemont, Pierre 1996 Therese and Lisieux Wm B Eerdmans Publishing p 86 ISBN 9780802838360 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  43. ^ Wright, J; Jones, H 12 June 2012 Pluralism and the Idea of the Republic in France Springer pp 162–163 ISBN 9781137028310 Archived from the original on 4 August 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  44. ^ Erlanger, Steven 5 February 2015 "Old Tradition of Secularism Clashes With France’s New Reality" The New York Times Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  45. ^ Vindé, François 1989 L'affaire des fiches, 1900–1904: chronique d'un scandale University of Michigan: Editions universitaires ISBN 9782711303892 
  46. ^ Ibrahim, Raymond 19 July 2016 "Reuters: 'Muslim Grievances' Responsible for Terrorism in France" Frontpage Mag Archived from the original on 20 July 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  47. ^ Malykhina, Liza 21 April 2015 "Paris mayor promises millions for crumbling historic churches" France 24 Archived from the original on 5 May 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  48. ^ "French President Rejects Proposal to Allocate Public Funding to Mosques" Morocco World News 3 August 2016 Archived from the original on 4 August 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  49. ^ Randall, Colin 28 October 2004 "French finance minister wants state funding for mosques" The Telegraph Archived from the original on 1 March 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  50. ^ Mulholland, Rory 29 July 2016 "French PM considers temporary ban on foreign-funded mosques" The Telegraph Archived from the original on 31 July 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 
  51. ^ Serhan, Yasmeen 1 August 2016 "France's Disappearing Mosques" The Atlantic Archived from the original on 2 August 2016 Retrieved 4 August 2016 

External linksedit

  • Current official version from Légifrance in French
  • The deep roots of French secularism, article by Henri Astier on BBC News online, September 1, 2004
  • One Hundred Years of French Secularism by Mélina Gazsi
  • in French Dossier from the French National Assembly
  • Délibérations sur le projet de loi et les propositions de loi concernant la séparation des Eglises et de l'Etat by the retired journalist Claude Ovtcharenko including all parliamentary sessions, Emile Combes' 1904 speech, chronology, etc in French

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