The Separatist Law

The Separatist Law

Overview

The Separatist Law (or Law to Reinforce Republican Values) contains propositions that, if enacted, would restrict the freedom of worship in France.  This is a serious concern to all who wish to see the Gospel shared in France. The points of concern are:

  1. Churches will have to register every 5 years to prove their activities qualify it to remain a church (Art. 27).
  2. Churches will need to declare to the government (administration fiscale) the total amount and number of tax receipts given, provide their annual budget, show foreign funds received (Art. 11), and show a list of churches (if multi-site) (Art. 33).
  3. Pastors will be personally fined 9,000 EUR for any infractions (Art. 34).
  4. Foreign funds greater than 10,000 EUR/year will need to be declared and accompanied by audited financials (Art. 35). The prefecture can order a church to return those funds if there is a “real, present, and serious threat affecting one or more fundamental interests of society”
  5. Prefectures will now be able to immediately close churches who they deem are provoking hate and violence (Art. 44).

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Latest Updates

May 7, 2021

The names of the committee have been announced here:

Commission mixte paritaire chargée de proposer un texte sur les dispositions restant en discussion du projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République et de lutte contre le séparatisme

Please pray for each of these members by name – that they would have wisdom and discernment and that God would direct their paths!

As these names were announced and the two approved bills from the Senate and the National Assembly (see below) are slated to be reconciled starting next week, the CNEF sent an official report the the United Nations Human Rights Commission to denounce the proposed law.

France’s government is set to appear before this commission in June/July to answer questions about the situation of Human Rights in the country.

In the report, the CNEF presents 11 different examples in three broad categories of how this law fundamentally changes the 1905 French law guaranteeing the separation of Church and state and, in fact, re-introduces the State as the ultimate judge and jury of whether or not religions deserve to be practiced. The CNEF also proposed four questions that the Human Rights Commission could ask to the French government during their interviews:

  • Describe the impact of the changes to the law of December 9, 1905 on religions, their associations and their vitality, and their conformity with Article 18 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance). Comment on reasons which prompted the French state to modify this law and how these restrictions freedom of religion are strictly limited to what is necessary and proportional to the aims pursued – if these are legitimate within the meaning of art. 18§3.2.
  • With regard to the freedom to express one’s convictions in public and in particular to wear religious symbols, in view of the new provisions provided for in the bill reinforcing the respect of the republican principles on the freedom of religion and taking into account the recommendations previously made by the Committee on the matter (para. 22),  describe the measures taken by the French state to protect this freedom.
  • Describe how, in the supervision of young people during the cohesion stay (collective housing used during the mandatory civil service period that all young people must perform in France), the freedom of religion for young people and their parents is guaranteed, in law and in practice. Explain why the military chaplaincy service, already functioning in the French Army, has not been mobilized to allow respect for the freedom of religion in these accommodations.
  • Describe, in the context of national education and in particular the new article L.141-5-2 of the Education Code (resulting from article 10 of the Blanquer Law), the measures taken by the French state so that freedom of expression, demonstration and propagation of the religious beliefs of students, parents or third parties within or in the vicinity of public places of education is respected within the meaning of art. 18.

Please pray for the timing and the openness of the UN Human Rights Commission to question the French government and for the Conseil Constitutionel as well as the Conseil d’Etat to become aware of the violations of Human Rights to Freedom of Worship that this law perpetrates on French citizens.

April 26, 2021

The government (i.e., president/ministers) is at odds with much of the Senatorial-approved bill. Therefore, the joint committee will likely NOT come to an agreement. We have seen, from France Générosités, the news that this committee will not even be formed and the bill will go straight back to the Assemblée Générale for a final vote and approval, however as of right now, it does look like May 5th is still the date for committee member selection with a start date of May 12th for their work.

Despite the timing of the process, statutes to enforce the law are being drafted for use in prefectures. A positive note is that the Interior Minister has contact the CNEF to let them know that they will be calling those “on the ground” to share their views on the statutes so that they are more easily implemented by religious groups.

April 19, 2021

After the Senate vote which passed the bill (208 votes FOR and 109 AGAINST) last week, all work on the law has stopped until May 5th. On this date, the Joint Committee members will be named. Please pray for the selection of these committee members as they will be the ones tasked with working out the final version of the proposed law. If they cannot reconcile both bills, the National Assembly will vote on a FINAL version of the law. This vote, if it occurs, will be in the beginning of July.

Regardless of the outcome of the conciliatory process or the vote, the final version of the approved law will then move to a review of the Conseil constitutionnel and the Conseil d’Etat. These two bodies will be tasked with ensuring what is contained in the law does not violate the French Constitution or other French law.

April 13, 2021

The CNEF’s first overview of the bill voted on and passed by the Senate is below.

Next steps: a joint committee will reconcile the two bills (the one passed by the Assembly and the other by the Senate) to finalize the law that will go into effect. After passing through a counsel on its constitutionality, statutes will be written to “deploy the law” into reality.

Excerpts taken from the CNEF’s latest update:

Far from guaranteeing the freedom of worship in France, as Title 3 suggestions, the current version of the law shifts France into a surveillance state as it relates to matters of faith – all religions paying the price. Every single French citizen, believer or not, can legitimately ask what about this law is actually separating Church and State.

The French law passed in 1905 has been the buffer and guardian between the State and religions for more than a century and is now at risk of being substantially amended to allow the State to enact close surveillance of worship activities. This surveillance is clearly visible by the new role and authority of the Prefectures who are now responsible to receive, process, judge, and make determinations on:

1. Declaration of churches (whether or not they can exist)
2. Declaration of foreign finances (with the ability to force churches to return funds)
3. Approval of financing plans for places of worship (and to deny them)
4. Declaration of the number and amount of tax receipts given by churches

This law makes closing churches a “national security” issue, adds more fines and penalties to the already heavy-handed Worship Police (police des cultes) and singles out ministers, their words, or their writings to personally fine and penalize them.

Impact France shares the belief of the CNEF that this law, in its current form, establishes:

“an excessive arsenal that constricts freedom of worship both in purpose and practice for a large number of organizations… the administrative constraints on worship activities, especially connected to leaders of churches, constitute an administrative obstacle to block the freedom of worship and the growth of churches. Over and above a generalized suspicion of churches….we see a way of operating that discourages church life in France.

“The restrictions on religious life that have been introduced and affirmed in this bill continue to raise the question of 1) their necessity, and; 2) their ability to hit the stated target. Therefore, the CNEF calls on the government and the legislature to define a more correct balance and understanding of the separation of Church and State.”

We join with the CNEF in vehemently reaffirming that we put our whole faith in GOD and in the grace that will be shown at the appearing of Jesus. We would go a step further in declaring that no matter the political, social, or moral situation of any country, state, commune, city, or decision maker, God:

– has seen it and His plan accounts for it;
– continues and will continue to reign supreme – above all earthly kingdoms and rulers
– is faithful to those who follow Him
– will cause His church to thrive.

April 12, 2021

Senators were able to debate the bill up to article 43. The rest of the articles were voted on today, Monday, April 12. (full Senate debate here) What follows is a select summary of several approved articles as of this weekend (today’s votes NOT included yet) that affect Evangelical churches and religion in society. After the Senate passes its final version, it will go through a reconciliation process whereby the final version will be made law after a review of the Constitutional Counsel.

So, where do we stand? (from the CNEF and other readings of the law):

1. In general, the Senate toughened the bill by adopting a more restrictive position on freedom of religion, in the public space.
2. The Senate voted to prohibit all worship in places of education (universities).
3. The Senate firmly banned public expression of religious beliefs in all sporting associations/activities.
4. Homeschooling is no longer banned. The Senate voted to maintain the declarative system of homeschooling but with extra inspections and controls were added. (Such as immediate revocation of a family’s right to homeschool if the authorities receive “preoccupying information” about the family).

Regarding churches specifically, the Senate focused on several lines:

1. The Senate voted for a “simplified renewal” (art 27) to register churches at the prefecture whereby churches apply and are automatically approved unless the government opposes the application. The government has two months to do so at which time the church has one month to contest the ruling if denied.
2. Article 8 relating to the dissolution of associations also applies to religious associations.
3. Plans to build a place of worship will be subject to increased scrutiny before construction.
4. Article 35 on the declaration of foreign funding and benefits from abroad has been retained without substantial modification.
5. Article 36 ter bans cash donations for churches over the amount of 150 €. All gifts must be made by check, wire, or credit card. (Tout don de plus de 150 euros consenti à une association cultuelle doit être versé par chèque, virement, prélèvement automatique ou carte bancaire.)
6. Regarding the worship police (police des cultes), several specific fines and penalties for pastors have been increased compared to the project voted in the National Assembly.

So, while the Senate has clarified many aspects of the bill, it is still very much a law of surveillance (and suspicion) which has not been significantly eased. The aspects retained are:

1. Declaration at the prefecture
2. Declaration of foreign funding
3. Requirement of audited financials
4. Increased rules and procedures to build churches
5. Ban on cash donations to churches over 150 EUR
6. Increased fines and penalties for pastors and religious workers

April 9, 2021

After debating and voting on how the proposed law would work within Sports organizations, yesterday, the Senate turned to the most critical point of the bill which directly impacts Evangelical churches and other 1905 organizations. This is the time to pray! While many votes and amendments have been passed with no major changes yet, the Senate will still be debating today and possibly tomorrow on finalizing/voting on the rest of these areas. Surprisingly, a Communist atheist senator, Pierre Ouzoulias, has been one of those at the forefront of defending freedom of religion. As we obtain more information, we will share it.

An article was published today in France on a suggestion from the Minister of Interior, Gérald Darmanin, on temporarily closing places of worship to “clean up”. He is strongly opposing those who disagree with the bill. The article can be found here.

April 7, 2021

Procedural updates (in French) from Senat.fr: https://www.senat.fr/espace_presse/actualites/202101/principes_de_la_republique.html
Watch the debates LIVE (21H40 GMT+1): https://videos.senat.fr/direct

April 6, 2021

Discussions on the bill began in the Senate March 30th. In the opening session, a motion to dismiss the bill entirely was defeated after a bitter debate.

Articles relating to worship will be under discussion this week.

Senate debates will take place  on Tuesday (4/6) morning, afternoon, and evening; on Wednesday (4/7) morning, afternoon, and evening; and Thursday (4/8) afternoon and possibly evening. The final vote could take place at any time.

The bill is going through an “accelerated procedure” whereby a joint committee of Senators and Députés will decide on the final text once the Senate votes. If they cannot find a compromise, the bill will go back to the National Assembly, who will have the final say.

Central Prayer Point for this week: That the text would be amended and changed AND that the modalities of applying this law would be done in such a way as not hinder freedom of worship!

More Prayer Points:

  1. Again, pray that this bill does not limit freedom of worship or the proclamation of the Gospel in France.
  2. Pray for the Senate debates this week and for the vote on the bill that will significantly affect both evangelical churches and homeschooling families.
  3. Ask God to help our French deputies and senators realize the “added value” represented by the Christian faith which transforms lives and leads men and women to conversion in Jesus Christ.
  4. Pray for the debates that will take place in the joint committee (National Assembly Députés and Senators) to find a point of agreement between the two chambers.
  5. Pray that God will give strength, wisdom and courage to senators for the respect of our fundamental freedoms and the free exercise of worship.
  6. Pray that the measures of this law would be proportionate, for example by threshold or exemption, to protect small- and medium-sized churches.
  7. Pray that we as French Christians would humbly seek God, asking Him to enable us to speak the Gospel with boldness, that with great power we might testify to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:29, 33).
  8. Pray that God would bless France through the testimony of French evangelical Protestant Christians.

Many Christian Members of Parliament are facing the dilemma of voting according to conscience or giving in to pressure from their political family. There are senators who understand the significance of this bill.

Many Senators have a personal relationship with Jesus: let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give them lucidity, courage, and wisdom in the debates and the votes in plenary sessions.

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Historical Timeline

October 2020

In October of 2020, President Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech (after two terrorist attacks in the same month, one being the murder of Samuel Paty) unveiling a set of new mandates for France in an effort to eliminate “radical Islam” or the political Islam that sought, through the attacks, to undermine the Republic.

The theme of the speech was how France needed to do more and go further. Promises relating to strengthening “laïcité” were made… but, oddly, the version of “laïcité” that Macron mentioned seemed more about oppressing religious expression than guaranteeing it. Even more disturbing, Macron said that he would totally ban on homeschooling except for medical reasons and geography distance from an educational institution.

Since the Jules Ferry laws, French State schools have been about promoting the “values of the Republic” above everything else. School has been seen as an “assimilation tool” vs learning centers. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Macron wanted to funnel everyone through the State-run establishments.

In the president’s speech (original text and video here), is found the most detailed and direct proclamation of the French government’s position against religion that has been pronounced in recent times.

Excerpts from the speech are below:

“I am taking a position that is probably more radical than the Jules Ferry laws [requiring education be provided by the State] and the 1969 law that allowed boys and girls to go to the same classes. Learning at school will be mandatory for all in 2021 and learning at home will be limited to those with health problems [preventing them to go to school].

…the primary mission of education is to instill the values of the Republic and not those of a religion…

…The school needs to become again a Republican melting pot

The Republic will resist those trying to destroy it by using the school system!

January/February 2021

After Macron’s speech, the legislature created the proposed law (bill) outlining how the French government would implement those items listed in Macron’s speech.

Yet, what was expected to be measures to curb radical Islam, the law actually targeted Evangelical and Protestant churches! Many began to publicly decry the “Separatist bill” as extremely damaging to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion in France. 

In speeches, everyone says the law is against Muslims.. yet, the section (Title 2) that deals with religious worship doesn’t apply to Islam at all. In France, most mosques are dubbed “cultural centers” and organized as 1901 associations. Title 2 law applies to 1905 associations.

So, which associations are 1905? 4,000 of the 5,000 registered 1905 associations are Protestant Churches (and 90% of Evangelical Churches are 1905 associations!).

So, rather than limiting Islam, it is a slap in the face to Evangelicals and promotes the idea that that religion is guilty until proven innocent, houses of worship are centers of terrorism, and anything that is related to faith should be controlled and erased.

M. François Clavairoly, president of the FPF, said this in response to the shocking bill, “This is the first time, as President of the Protestant Federation of France, that I find myself in the position of defending freedom of worship. I never imagined that in my own country something like this could happen.

As mentioned in the overview, here are four aspects of this law that directly affect the Evangelical Church in France:

  1. Evangelical Churches will need to apply to their prefectures every five years to keep their status as a church. For any reason, the prefecture could close the church without any hearing or other legal process.
  2. Churches will need to declare foreign funds over 10,000 EUR, and “certify their accounts”, which is like getting audited financials and costs several thousand euros. The churches who can’t pay? The pastor is personally fined 9,000 EUR and the church is uncompliant.
  3. Article 44 – “The government’s representative… can temporarily close a place of worship if certain positions, ideas, or theories are shared or certain activities are done which incite hatred or violence towards a person or a group of people or would justify or encourage such hate or violence.” This puts the State in a position to audit preaching and teaching in a Church.
  4. Homeschooling– although not widely practiced among Evangelicals in France as is in the US – would still be made illegal except for children with health issues, intense sports/artistic activities, live too far from a school, or have other situations specific to the child but whose parents can justify their ability to teach. There is no exception for religious or philosophical abstention.

Over 2,650 amendments were proposed, however, the bill moved to the National Assembly on February 1, 2021 where it was voted on and passed (February 16th) by 347 parliamentarians and rejected by only 151.

March 2021

Despite many consultations and meetings between faith-based groups, associations, and even those representing donors and accountants, the French National Assembly voted to pass the proposed law with Title 2 largely untouched. 

April 2021

The Senate increased the strength of much of the law due to the right-leaning majority and approved their version of the bill.

What Happens Next?

A parliamentary commission will try to reconcile the two bills in May. If this is not successful, the National Assembly will vote on the final version after which it will go to the Constitutional Counsel and State Counsel for final ratification.

The CNEF estimates that it will be spring of 2022 before we will see any application of this law as it will take time to create statutes and methods to enforce it all. For example, if churches have to register every 5 years at the Prefecture, what do they bring? What form do they fill out? These are all things that must be developed and then fully executed.

Impact France’s Stance on the Separatism Law

At Impact France, we share the concern of groups like the FPF, the CNEF, CDPH, France Générosités, and many others in their opposition to the articles that curtail worship and penalize associations. We stand with the AESPEF, the AFP, and all other human rights groups, NGOs, and parents who oppose the measures in their current form. We support the CNEF’s suggestions found here.

We do not approve of the increasing discretionary power of the State to close, suspend, or fine churches. There has not been one instance of churches committing acts of terrorism or violence, yet they are the ones that are targeted. Additionally, many areas of the law are too vague to be enforced outside of arbitrary decisions. For example, what counts as a religious service? Who is a “member” of a church? Being more specific will only plunge the State further into ecclesiastical affairs and keeping the obscurity will only result in an unevenly applied law like churches being punished in areas where they are not wanted by politicians. It is very much a no-win situation.

A statement from the FÉDÉRATION DES ASSOCIATIONS FAMILIALES PROTESTANTES:

The federation would like to point out that school has never been mandatory in France – rather education. The French Constitution, international conventions, and treaties, affirm the same principle which is summarized by article 26:3 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” To question the different modalities of education is questioning the fundamental freedoms of our country.

A statement from the AESPEF:

In France, the atmosphere is hardening with this proposed law against “separatists.” Macron announced that he wanted to end the option of instruction at home but he also wants to make it harder for faith-based schools like ours.

  • Pray that the freedom to homeschool continues.
  • Pray that faith-based schools and our Evangelical schools are spared from further attacks.
  • Pray for wisdom, cohesion, and determination in this legal battle that is coming.