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Church-state separation in Constitution of 1795 and Law of 1905: Excerpts

Church-state separation in France was announced in the Revolutionary Constitution of 1795 and codified in detail in the Law of 1905. Aristide Briand (1862-1932) was the principal author of the latter, making political sacrifices in order to help implement it. He served several terms as Prime Minister of France and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The law that separated church and state in France was the culmination of more than a century of secularisation. During the French First Republic the basic principle of secularism was enunciated in the Constitution from Year III of the Revolution (1795, see below). Later, the Third Republic ushered in a flood of measures including abolition of laws enforcing the sabbath (1880), secularisation of state schools (1882), ending prayers in the legislature (1884) and the legalisation of divorce (1892). These culminated in the Separation Law (1905, see below).
Church-state separation in the Revolutionary Constitution
of 5 Fructidor Year III
(22 August 1795)

Article 354.  No one may be prevented from exercising, in accordance with the law, the worship he has chosen. - No one may be forced to contribute to the expenses of worship. The Republic does not pay anyone. [i.e., in relation to religion]

Law concerning Separation of the Churches and the State
9 December 1905)
Part 1 : Principles

Article 1.  The Republic ensures freedom of conscience. It guarantees the free exercise of religion subject to the sole restrictions enacted hereafter in the interest of public order.

Article 2.  The Republic does not recognize, remunerate or subsidize any religion. In consequence, starting on the 1st of January which follows the publication of this Law, all expenses concerning the practice of religion shall be abolished from the budgets of the State, Departments and municipal councils.

However, expenses related to the services of the chaplaincy and intended to ensure the free exercise of religion in public establishments such as secondary schools (lycées and collèges), and primary schools, hospitals, asylums and prisons, may be included in these budgets. The public establishments of religion are abolished, subject to the conditions stipulated in Article 3.

Part 2 : Conferment of goods, pensions

Article 3.  Those establishments, the suppression of which is decreed by article 2, will continue to function provisionally, according to the regulations that are currently enforced, until the conferment of their properties to the associations provided for by Part IV and at the very latest until the expiration of the period mentioned below.

When the current Law is promulgated, officers of the State property administration will proceed to the descriptive and estimated inventory :
1/ Of the moveable and immoveable property of the aforesaid establishments ;
2/ Of the possessions of the State, Departments and municipalities of which they have the use.
This two-fold inventory will be made by the opposing parties with legal representatives of ecclesiastical establishments or with those duly summoned by a notification written in a formal manner.

The officers in charge of the inventory will have the right to check any title or documents necessary to their task.

Article 4.  Within one year of the promulgation of this Law, the moveable and immoveable property of the menses [property producing income to support churches] workshops, clerical councils, consistories and any other public establishments of worship, as well as all the encumbrances and obligations that are mortgaged to them along with their special allocation, will be transferred by the legal representatives of those establishments to the associations, which in conformity with the regulations of the general organisation of the worship which they intend to assure, will be legally constituted in accordance with the provisions of Article 19, for the exercise of this worship in the previous circumscriptions [of dioceses and parishes] of the aforesaid establishments. […]

Article 10.  1. The conferments planned for in the preceding articles do not give rise to any collection [of revenue] of profit to the Treasury. […]

Part 3 : Buildings for religion

Article 12. [1] The buildings which have been placed at the disposal of the nation and which, under the terms of the Law of 18 Germinal year 10, [8 April 1802, when the Napoleonic concordat was promulgated] are used for the public exercise of the worship or the accommodation of their ministers (cathedrals, churches, chapels, synagogues, archbishop's palaces, bishops' houses, presbyteries, seminaries), as well as their immoveable appurtenances [real estate], and the moveable items which furnished them at the time when the aforementioned buildings were given to the religious bodies, are and remain, public property of the State, Departments, municipalities and public establishments for intermunicipal co-operation with authority over religious buildings.

For these buildings, as for those [which have been placed at the disposal of the nation ] after the Law of 18 Germinal year 10, whose State, departments and municipalities would be the owners, including colleges of Protestant theology, the procedure shall be in accordance with the provisions of the following articles.

Article 13. [2] The buildings serving for the exercise of public worship, as well as the furniture they contain, are left to the free disposition of the public religious establishments, after that to the associations designated to replace them, for which the goods of these establishments with have been conferred according to the stipulations of Part 2. […]

Article 16. There will be an additional classification of buildings serving public worship (cathedrals, churches, chapels, temples, synagogues, archbishop's palaces, bishops' houses, presbyteries, seminaries), which is to include all buildings exhibiting, in whole or in part, artistic or historical value. […]

Article 17. [3] Furnishings intended to be classified through the Law of 30 March 1887 or the present Law are inalienable and imprescribable.
Where the sale or exchange of a classified object shall be authorized by the minister in charge, a right of pre-emption is granted : 1 to cultural associations ; 2 to municipalities ; 3 to Departments ; 4 to museums and societies for art and archaeology ; 5 to the State. The price will be fixed by three experts who will be appointed by the seller, the purchaser and the president of a Court of First Instance.
If one of the purchasers referred to above does not use his right of pre-emption, the sale will be open ; but it is forbidden for the purchaser of a classified object to remove it from France.
Both classified buildings and exhibits of classified moveable objects will be open to visits by the public : they may not involve any charges or dues. […]

Part 5 : Regulation of religion

Article 25. Meetings for the celebration of religion taking place in premises belonging to a cultural association or [in those] put at its disposal are public. They are exempted from the formalities of Article 8 of the Law of 30 June 1881, but they remain under the supervision of the authorities in the interest of public order.

Article 26.  It is forbidden to hold political meetings in premises habitually serving for the exercise of religion.

Article 27. [4] Ceremonies, processions and other external manifestations of a religion are regulated in conformity with Article 97 of the Code for municipal administration. Chiming of the bells is regulated by municipal ordinances […]

Article 28.  It is forbidden, in the future, to erect or to put up any religious sign or symbol on public buildings or in any public place, except on buildings used as places of worship, on burial grounds in cemeteries, on funeral monuments and on museums or exhibition halls.

Article 29.  Contraventions of the preceding articles are to be punished as minor infractions. Regarding Articles 25, 26 and 27 liability extends to those who have organized the meeting or demonstration, those who have participated in the capacity of ministers of religion and regarding Articles 25 and 26, those who have provided the premises.

Article 30. [5] In conformity with the provisions of Article 2 of the Law of 28 March 1892, religious instruction may not be given to children between the ages of six and thirteen years who are enrolled in state schools, except outside of class.
Ministers of religion who violate these regulations will be subject to Article 14 of the Law mentioned above.

Article 31. To be punished by a fine for contraventions of the fifth class and by an imprisonment of between six days and two months or by one of these penalties alone, are those who, whether by actions, acts of violence or threats against a person, whether by making him fear losing his employment or exposing to harm his person, his family or his wealth, cause him to practice or refrain from practicing a religion, to take part in or to cease taking part in a religious association, to contribute to or to refrain from contributing to the expenses of a religion.

Article 32.  To suffer the same penalties are those who shall prevent, delay or interrupt the exercise of religion by disturbances or disorders created in the premises serving for this exercise.
Article 33.  The provisions of the two preceding articles only apply to disturbances, outrages or assaults whose nature or circumstances do not lead to more severe punishments in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Code.

Article 34.  Any ministers of religion who, in those places where religion is exercised, has publicly through words spoken, speeches delivered, writings distributed or notices posted, insulted or defamed a citizens charged with public service, will face a fine of 25,000 francs and an imprisonment of one year or with one of these two penalties.
The truth of the defamatory act, but only if it relates to his office, can be established before the correctional tribunal in the forms set out by Article 52 of the Law of 29 July 1881. The regulations laid down by Article 65 of the same Law apply to offenses under the present article and the one that follows.

Article 35.  If a speech given or a piece of writing posted or publicly distributed in places where religion is exercised contains a direct incitement to resist the implementation of laws or legal acts of the public authorities, or if it tends to cause an uprising or to arm one group of citizens against others, the minister of the religion who has made himself culpable will be punished an imprisonment of from three months to two years, without prejudice in a case where the incitement is followed by a riot, revolt or civil war.

Part 6 : General provisions

Article 44.  To be abrogated and remain so, are all provisions relative to the public organisation of religion formerly recognized by the State, as well as all provisions contrary to the present Law, namely :
1.  The Law of 18 Germinal year 10, to the effect that the agreement accepted on 26 Messidor year 9 between the pope and the French Government, together with the Organic Articles of that agreement and of the Protestant denominations, will be executed as laws of the Republic. […]


1. Modified by Law no. 98-546 of 2 July 1998, Article 94.1-- JORF (Journal Officiel de la République Française), 3 July 1998.

2. Modified by Law no. 98-546 of 2 July 1998, Article 94 II (JORF 3 July 1998). 

3. Modified by the Law of 31 December 1913 (JORF 4 January 1914).

4. Modified by Law no. 80-514 of 7 July 1980, single Article (JORF 9 July 1980).

5. Abrogated by Ordinance no. 2000-549 of 15 June 2000, Article 7 (JORF 22 June 2000).


Constitution du 5 Fructidor An III (22 aout 1795)

Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Eglises et de l'Etat
(Version consolidée au 06 mars 2008) 

Translated by Muriel Fraser

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