Religion in France
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France is a country where freedom of religion and freedom of thought are guaranteed by virtue of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The Republic is based on the principle of laïcité (or "freedom of conscience") enforced by the 1880s Jules Ferry laws and the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State. Roman Catholicism, the religion of a majority of French people, is no longer the state religion that it was before the French Revolution and throughout the various, non-republican regimes of the 19th century (the Restoration, the July Monarchy and the Second French Empire).
Major religions practised in France include Catholic Christianity, Islam, Judaism, various branches of Protestantism, Hinduism, Russian Orthodoxy, Armenian Christianity, and Sikhism amongst others, making it a multi confessional country. While millions in France continue to attend religious services regularly, the overall level of observance is considerably lower than in the past. According to the Eurobarometer Poll conducted in 2010, 27% of French citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", 33% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force", and 40% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force". This makes France one of the more secular countries in the world.
Legal status and brief history
France guarantees freedom of religion as a constitutional right and the government generally respects this right in practice. A long history of violent conflict between groups led the state to break its ties to the Catholic Church early in the 1800s and adopt a strong commitment to maintaining a totally secular public sector.
Catholicism as a state religion
Catholicism is the primary religion in France. During the Ancien Régime, France had traditionally been considered the Church's eldest daughter, and the King of France always maintained close links to the Pope. This led to various conflicts, in particular during the Reformation between Catholics and Huguenots (French Calvinists).
French Wars of Religion (1562–1598)
A strong Protestant population resided in France, primarily of Reformed confession. It was persecuted by the state for most of the time, with temporary periods of relative toleration. These wars continued throughout the 16th century, with the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre as its apex, until the 1598 Edict of Nantes issued by Henry IV.
For the first time, Huguenots were considered by the state as more than mere schismatics and heretics. The Edict of Nantes thus opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants: amnesty, the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the State and to bring grievances directly to the king.
Post–Edict of Nantes (1598–1789)
The 1598 Edict also granted the Protestants fifty places of safety (places de sûreté), which were military strongholds such as La Rochelle for which the king paid 180,000 écus a year, along with a further 150 emergency forts (places de refuge), to be maintained at the Huguenots' own expense. Such an innovative act of toleration stood virtually alone in a Europe (except for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) where standard practice forced the subjects of a ruler to follow whatever religion that the ruler formally adopted— the application of the principle of cuius regio, eius religio.
Religious conflicts resumed in the end of the 17th century, when Louis XIV, the "Sun King", initiated the persecution of Huguenots by introducing the dragonnades in 1681. These wave of violence intimidated the Protestants into converting to Catholicism. He made this policy official with the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes. As a result, a large number of Protestants – estimates range from 200,000 to 500,000 – left France during the following two decades, seeking asylum in England, the United Provinces, Denmark, in the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire (Hesse, Brandenburg-Prussia, etc.) and European colonies in North America and South Africa.
On 17 January 1686, Louis XIV himself claimed that out of a Huguenot population of 800,000 to 900,000, only 1,000 to 1,500 had remained in France. A Camisard rebellion broke out in 1702 in the Cevennes mountains.
The 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a state of affairs in France similar to that of virtually every other European country of the period, where only the majority state religion was tolerated. The experiment of religious toleration in Europe was effectively ended for the time being. In practice, the revocation caused France to suffer a brain drain, as it lost a large number of skilled craftsmen, including key designers such as Daniel Marot.
Upon leaving France, Huguenots took with them knowledge of important techniques and production – which had a significant effect on the quality of the silk, plate glass, silversmithing for which the Huguenots were renowned, and cabinet making industries of those regions to which they relocated. Some rulers, such as Frederick Wilhelm of Brandenburg, who issued the Edict of Potsdam, encouraged the Protestants to flee and settle in their countries.
French Revolution (1789)
During the French Revolution, the Catholic Church lost its power and influence. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed in 1790, put the Catholic Church under state control. While the clergy was persecuted by the commune of Paris and some of the representatives on mission, new religions and philosophies were allowed to compete with Catholicism.
Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830)
After the Bourbon Restoration and the coming to power of the Ultra-royalists in the Chambre introuvable, Roman Catholicism again became the state religion of France. Under Villèle's ultra-royalist government, the Chamber voted in the extreme 1830 Anti-Sacrilege Act.
Third Republic (1870–1940)
1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State
A 1905 law instituted the separation of Church and State and prohibited the government from recognising, salarying or subsidising any religion. However the Briand-Ceretti Agreement subsequently restored for a while a formal role for the state in the appointment of Catholic bishops (evidence for its exercise is not easily obtained, though) . In the preceding situation, established 1801–1808 by the Concordat, the State supported the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Calvinist Church and the Jewish religion, and provided for public religious educations in those established religions.
For historical reasons, this situation is still current in Alsace-Moselle, which was a German region in 1905 and maintains a local law, known as the Concordat: the national government salaries clergy of the Roman Catholic diocese of Metz and of Strasbourg, of the Lutheran Protestant Church of Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine, of the Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine and of the three regional Israelite consistories as state civil servants, and provides for non-compulsory religious education in those religions in public schools and universities. For similar historical reasons, Catholic priests in French Guiana are civil servants of the local government.
Religious buildings built prior to 1905 at taxpayers' expense are retained by the local or national government, and may be used at no expense by religious organizations. As a consequence, most Catholic churches, Protestant temples, and Jewish synagogues are owned by the government. The government, since 1905, has been prohibited from funding any post-1905 religious edifice, and thus religions must build and support all newer religious buildings at their own expense. Some local governments de facto subsidize prayer rooms as part of greater "cultural associations".
An ongoing topic of controversy is whether the separation of Church and State should be weakened so that the government should be able to subsidize Muslim prayer rooms and the formation of imams. Advocates of such measures, such as Nicolas Sarkozy at times, declare that they would encourage the Muslim population to better integrate into the fabric of French society. Opponents contend that the state should not fund religions. Furthermore, the state ban on wearing conspicuous religious symbols, such as the Islamic female headscarf, in public schools has alienated some French Muslims, provoked minor street protests and drawn some international criticism.
Religious organizations are not required to register, but may if they wish to apply for tax-exempt status or to gain official recognition. The 1901 and 1905 laws define two categories under which religious groups may register: "associations cultuelles" (associations of worship, which are exempt from certain taxes) and "associations culturelles" (cultural associations, which are not exempt from these taxes).
Associations in these two categories are subject to certain management and financial disclosure requirements. An association of worship may organize only religious activities, loosely defined as liturgical services and practices, but no social or diaconal ones. A cultural association may engage in social as well as in profit-making activity. Although a cultural association is not exempt from taxes, it may receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations, such as schools. Religious groups normally register entities under both of these categories; churches run strictly religious activities through associations of worship and operate schools and social activities under cultural associations.
In accordance with the provisions of Title IV, Art. 19 of the Law of 9 December 1905, these associations of worship must be exclusively for the purpose of religious ministries, i.e.: the performance of religious ceremonies and services, the acquisition and maintenance of buildings of worship, the wages and the theological education of their ministers of religion.
Under the 1905 statute, religious groups must apply with the local prefecture to be recognized as an association of worship and receive tax-exempt status. The prefecture reviews the submitted documentation regarding the association's purpose for existence. To qualify, the group's purpose must be solely the practice of some form of religious ministries.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 109 of 1,138 Protestant associations, 15 of 147 Jewish associations, and approximately 30 of 1,050 Muslim associations have tax-free status. Approximately 100 Catholic associations are tax-exempt; a representative of the Ministry of Interior reports that the number of nontax-exempt Catholic associations is too numerous to estimate accurately. More than 50 associations of the Jehovah's Witnesses have tax-free status.
According to the 1905 law, associations of worship are not taxed on the donations that they receive. However, the prefecture may decide to review a group's status if the association receives a large donation or legacy that comes to the attention of the tax authorities. If the prefecture determines that the association is not in fact in conformity with the 1905 law, its status may be changed, and it may be required to pay taxes at a rate of 70 percent on the present and past donations that fall within a legal category close to that of inheritance.
Religion and society
French public policy
The policy of French government traditionally consider religion as a private matter: depending on the context, they may consider it inquisitive to enter religious discussions. Communautarisme, meaning the forming of ethnic or religious communities separate from mainstream life, occurs frequently but often meets with suspicion. The separation of religion from government power, legally referred to as laïcité, has held sway since the Jules Ferry laws passed at the end of the 19th century and since the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State.
Left-wing politicians generally do not discuss their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, and seldom use religious arguments in political debates, with the notable exception of Jacques Delors. Some centrist politicians such as François Bayrou or conservative politicians such as Union for a Popular Movement member Christine Boutin (see PACS civil union) are much more vocal about their faith.
Religious expressions and Biblical references are coming back in public rhetoric and during the 2007 presidential campaign two of the candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, both raised as Roman Catholics, made a number of references to their faiths. For the first time ever, the French media asked all candidates to declare their religious affiliations.
One of the more significant signs of change is on the left: the anti-globalisation activist José Bové feels close to Christianity, Marie-George Buffet, head of the French Communist Party strongly opposes any anti-religious interpretations of French secularism. However, both of them stop short of self-identifying as believers.
Nicolas Sarkozy sees France's main religions as positive contributions to French society. He was elected on a platform proposing changes to the Republic's century-old principle of secularism. He visited Vatican and met the pope Benedict XVI in December 2007 and publicly acknowledged France's Christian roots, while highlighting the importance of freedom of thought, hinting that faith should come back into the public sphere.
Islamic fundamentalism is considered to be a threat to the cohesion of the French society. Many, including the Canard Enchaîné, Libération and other left-wing newspapers, claim that the Minister of Interior overplays the threat in order to justify certain policies. Reasons for tensions include the desire of a very few imams and other Muslims not to abide by French laws, regulations and customs.
Following conflicts about Muslim girls breaching school dress-regulations or refusing to attend certain classes, the French government adopted in 2004 the then controversial French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools. In 2003 as Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy set up the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), which secular-minded politicians (mainly supporters of Jacques Chirac) have widely criticized by as a sign of Sarkozy's alleged multiculturalism. These tensions echo earlier quarrels with respect to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in French society and the influence of the Pope in French public affairs (see gallicanism vs ultramontanism.)
The French public and government pay attention to certain minority religious groups, considered as cults. In 1995 the French National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of France, set up a Parliamentary Commission about Cults in France, which issues a yearly report. Concerns mounted particularly following a much-publicized series of mass murders and suicides inside the Order of the Solar Temple in 1995. Public concerns include the well-being and education of children in cults that isolate themselves from the community, the advocacy of medical practices generally considered hazardous, the defrauding of members by greedy leaders and sexual abuse. Such concerns have resulted in the foundation of commissions charged with the monitoring of possibly dangerous cults as well as the enactment of legislation facilitating the prosecution of criminal organizations.
Religious membership statistics
|Source (year)||Christianity||No religion||Islam||Judaism||Other|
|INED (2008-2009) ages 18-50||45.5%||45%||8%||0.5%||1%|
|CIA World Factbook (2015 est.)||63-66%||23-28%||7-9%||1%||0.5-1%|
|United States Department of State (2014)||45%||45%||8%||?||2%|
|Pew Research Center (2010)||63%||28%||7.5%||0.5%||1%|
Due to a law dating from 1872, the French Republic prohibits performing census by making distinction between its citizens regarding their race or their beliefs. However, that law does not concern surveys and polls, which are free to ask those questions if they wish.
- According to a 2011 survey by Ipsos MORI, 45% of the French are Christians (almost all Roman Catholics), 35% are irreligious, atheist or agnostic, 3% are Muslims, 1% are Buddhists, 6% adhere to unspecified other religions, and 10% did not give an answer to the question.
- A poll by IFOP for Catholic daily La Croix published in early 2010 presented data on Catholics in France. In 1965, 81% of the French declared themselves as Catholics; no more than 64% did in 2009. The decrease in active Catholics was proportionately much larger: in 1952, 27% of the French went to Mass once a week or more, while in 2006, no more than 4.5% did.
- According to Jean-Paul Gourévitch, there were 7.7 million Muslims (about 11 percent of the population) in metropolitan France in 2011.
- A 2006 poll published by Le Monde and Le Monde des Religions in January 2007 found that 51% of the French population describe themselves as Catholics (and only half of those said they believed in God), 31% as without religion, between 4% as Muslims, 3% as Protestants and 1% as Jews.
- This 2006 poll, mentioned as "January 2007 poll" in the International Religious Freedom Report 2007 by US Department of State, shows that 51 percent of respondents indicate they are Catholic, even if they never attend religious services. Another 31 percent of those polled state that they have no religious affiliation. Among Catholics, only 8 percent attend Mass weekly, one-third do so "occasionally", and 46 percent attend "only for baptisms, weddings, and funerals." Only 52 percent of the declared Catholics believe that the existence of God is "certain or possible." On the other hand, about a third of the 8% churchgoing Catholics are traditionalists.
- An October 2006 CSA poll addressed solely to Catholics established that 17% of French Catholics (who comprise 52% of the Catholic population) didn't believe in God. Among believers, most (79%) described God as a "force, energy, or spirit" and only 18% as a personal god.
- A December 2006 poll by Harris Interactive, published in The Financial Times, found that 32% of the French population described themselves as agnostic, a further 32% as atheist and only 27% believed in any type of God or supreme being.
- According to the Eurobarometer Poll 2010,
- 27% of French citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
- 27% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
- 40% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".
- According to a study led by CSA Group in 2000–2001 on 24,810 individuals for the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, numbers were as follow : Roman Catholic (69%), Irreligious (22%), Protestantism (2%), and others (7%).
- There are an estimated five to six million individuals of Muslim origin in the country (8 to 10 percent of the population), although estimates of how many of these are practicing vary widely. According to a 2004 survey, 36 percent of Muslims identify themselves as regularly observing traditional rites and practices. However, according to press reports of a September 2006 poll, 88 percent of Muslim respondents reported that they were observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a marked increase over previously recorded levels of observance. According to press reports, there were more than 2,000 mosques in the country. Protestants made up 3 percent of the population, the Jewish and Buddhist faiths each represented 1 percent, and those of the Sikh faith less than 1 percent.
- The 2007 CIA World Factbook listed the religion of France as Roman Catholic 83–88%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 5%–10%, unaffiliated 4%. In 2002 the CIA World Factbook stated that 88–92% of the French population was Catholic. The source of these numbers is unclear.
- According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church published by the Vatican, Annuario Pontificio, there were 46,875,000 French Catholics (74.9% of the population) in December 2009.
- In a 2003 poll, 41% of the respondents said that the existence of God was "excluded" or "unlikely". 33% declared that "atheist" described them rather or very well, and 51% for "Christian". When questioned about their religion, 62% answered that they were Roman Catholic, 6% Muslim, 2% Protestant, 1% Jewish, 2% "other religions" (except for Orthodox or Buddhist, which were negligible), and 26% "no religion", while 1% declined to answer. The discrepancy between the number of "atheists" (33%) and the number of with "no religion" (26%) may be attributed to people who feel culturally close to a religion and follow its moral values and traditions, but do not believe in God.
- In a 2012 poll conducted by WIN-Gallup International, 37% of respondents said they were religious, 34% said they were not religious, 29% said they were convinced atheists, and 1% didn't give an answer.
|Religion||Population||% of immigrant|
|No religion||400,000||6.0|| |
|Total number of migrants||6,680,000||101|| |
|IFOP||Roman Catholics||Regularly and occasionally churchgoers||Go to church at least every week|
|In percentage of total French population||64.4%||15.2%||4.5%|
|In million people||41.6||9.78||2.9|
In 2008, 3% of French people placed "Belief" among maximum 4 answers to the question "Among the following values, which one is most important in relation to your idea of happiness?". Same as in Belgium, it is the second lowest number, just above Portugal with 2%. The mean in "Europe 27" was 9%.
In the diocese of Auch more than 200 Catholic Churches are "never used". In Bayeux-Lisieux, 505 out of 804 Catholic edifices are "never used". In the same diocese, the number of churches that hold mass every Sunday has decreased from 164 in 2001 to 144 in 2006. This is explained in part by rural exodus and the concentration of population in towns during the last 60 years, but also by the church's manpower shortage and lower attendance. A smaller number of new churches have been built in urban areas over the same period, notably a new Catholic cathedral in Créteil near Paris.
Protestants have increased as a percentage of total population from 1% in 1987 to 3% in 2009, mainly through the spread of various Evangelical Protestant denominations.
As of 2011, 75% (4.5 million) of the approximately six million French residents and citizens with a North African or Muslim sub-Saharan African heritage were identified as "believers", and 41% (about 2.5 million) claimed to be "practitioners", according to a report posted on Islam in France by the IFOP on 1 August of last year. Research says that more than 70% of French Muslims claimed to have observed Ramadan in 2011. French converts to Islam are believed to number approximately 100,000 (Muslim associations claim the number is as high as 200,000), with thousands converting to the faith annually.
Public discussions about Islam
In Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region where French Muslims tend to be more educated and religious, the vast majority rejects violence and say they are loyal to France according to studies by Euro-Islam, a comparative research network on Islam and Muslims in the West sponsored by GSRL Paris/CNRS France and Harvard University.
- 77% of Muslims in Paris have chosen a low rating when asked whether or not violence is an acceptable moral response for a noble cause (1 or 2 on a scale of 5)
- 73% of Muslims in Paris said that Muslims are loyal to France
- 18% of Muslims in Paris believe that homosexuality is acceptable
150 new mosques were under construction in France in 2011. There are 2500 mosques in France(as of 2015; in 2011 there were 2000). Dalil Boubakeur said the number should be doubled.
The finance of mosque construction was a problematic subject for a long time; French authorities were concerned that foreign capital could be used to acquire influence in France, so in late 80s decided to simulate the emergence of an “Islam of France”. The 1905 law forbids funding of religious groups by the state. According to Salah Bariki, Advisor to the Mayor of Marseille in 2001 "At the Koran training institute in Nièvre 3% of the books are written in French and everything has been paid for from abroad." She supported the public participation in financing an Islamic Cultural Center in Marseille to encourage Muslims to develop and use French learning materials as it would be an obstacle to foreign indoctrination. Also “secular Muslims” and “actors of civil society” should be represented, not just religious officials.
Local authorities have financed mosques construction, sometimes without minarets and calling them Islamic "cultural centres" or municipal halls rented to "civil associations". In one case, due to FN, NRM and MPF protests and tribunal decision, the rent for a 8,000 m2 (86,111 sq ft) terrain to be used for Mosque Marseilles construction was increased from €300/year to €24,000/year and the period reduced from 99 to 50 years.
After Charlie Hebdo shooting
After Charlie Hebdo shooting, 2 million people in Paris including President Hollande and more than 40 world leaders led a rally of national unity.
One teacher in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb with many immigrants, reported that three quarters of the students had refused to observe the minute of silence in memory of the victims of Charlie Hebdo shooting.
There have been about 200 incidents in schools after the attack, some of them "glorifying terrorism". In Bobigny (Paris suburb) a couple of students grunted "Allahu Akbar" during the minute of silence (the same words that were shouted by the terrorists during the attack).
More than 700 French nationals and residents have traveled to fight in Syria.
Other religions in France
France created in 1995 the first French parliamentary commission on cult activities which led to a report registering a number of religious groups considered as socially disruptive and/or dangerous.
According to French sociologist Régis Dericquebourg, in 2003, the main small religious minorities are the Jehovah's Witnesses (130,000) (The European Court on Human Rights reckoned the number as 249,918 "regular and occasional" Jehovah's Witnesses), Adventists, Evangelicals (Assemblies of God, Christian Open Door...), Mormons (31,000) Scientologists (4,000) and Soka Gakkai. According to the 2005 Association of Religion Data Archives data there are close to some 4,400 Bahá'ís in France and the French government is among those who have been alarmed at the treatment of Bahá'ís in modern Iran.
Many groups have around 1,000 members (including Antoinism, Christian Science, Invitation to Life, Raelians, Mandarom, Hare Krishna), Unification Church (400). There are no longer members of the Family (formerly Children of God). According to the 2007 edition of the Quid, other notable religious minorities include New Apostolic Church (20,000), Universal White Brotherhood (20,000), Sukyo Mahikari (15,000—20,000), New Acropolis (10,000), Universal Alliance (1,000), Grail Movement (950).
- 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State
- Jules Ferry laws
- Laïcité, a French concept of a secular society
- Religious freedom in France
- Bahá'í Faith in France
- Buddhism in France
- Hinduism in France
- Irreligion in France
- Islam in France
- Judaism in France
- Protestantism in France
- Roman Catholicism in France
- Scientology in France
- Sikhism in France
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