eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà


  • December 2020 : The Roman Catholic Church in France weakened by confinement

The health crisis of 2020 caused the total or partial closure of places of worship for several months. This has had a significant impact on the Roman Catholic Church in France, which announced that in 2020 it has suffered a "real financial shock", recording a 30 to 40% drop in its resources. The "denier du culte", the financial participation of the faithful collected during religious services, constitutes an important part of the resources of this Church.

See the press release of the Conférence des évêques de France (French Bishops’ Conference), and an article in Le Monde.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • December 2020 : An agreement between the Orthodox communities

Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in France, and president of the Assemblée des évêques orthodoxes de France - Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France) and Jean de Doubna (head of the archbishopric of Western European parishes of Russian tradition of the Moscow Patriarchate) signed, on Friday 4 December, a memorandum of understanding to pacify the relations of the French Orthodox communities.
For the past two years, a conflict has been aggravating relations between the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow. In November 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople had revoked the patriarchal charter (Tomos) dating from 1999, which canonically linked the Archbishopric of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe (ecclesial structure of the Diocesan Directing Union of Russian Orthodox Associations in Western Europe) to the Church of Constantinople. The parishes members of this Directing Union, born of the emigration of White Russians to France in the 1920s, found themselves, as a result of this revocation, directly linked to the metropolises of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and without an autonomous structure. This led to disagreements, with about a third of these parishes remaining attached to Constantinople, the other two thirds being attached to Moscow.

Nicolas Kazarian, Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • December 2020 : The Catholic Church, Religious Freedom and the Pandemic (continued)

On 16 November 2020, the representatives of the religious denominations met with Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin to study possible changes in the modalities of religious practice in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, on 24 November, when President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron detailed the measures for easing the second containment that France has been undergoing since 29 October, he announced that attendance at religious services would be limited to 30 people. The leaders of the different religious groups expressed their surprise and their regret that they had not been given a better hearing, judging this limit to be unreasonable and inapplicable.
Because of the importance they attach to participation in mass, the Catholics in particular have strongly advocated for this. Launched during the first weekend of confinement, the petition had collected more than 100 000 signatures in one week. The demand came from the most traditionalist circles, and was finally supported by the French Bishops’ Conference, which on 27 November filed a reference to the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), along with several other associations.
In its decision of 29 November 2020, the President of the Court ordered the government to modify this limit of 30 people within three days, by adapting it, for example, to the surface area of the establishments or to their capacity, so that it is strictly proportionate to the health risk. The Conseil d’État found that "the particular nature of religious ceremonies is not sufficient to justify the 30-person limit imposed on all religious establishments, regardless of their size", that this limit was disproportionate to the objective of preserving public health and that the government had seriously and manifestly unlawfully infringed the fundamental freedom of worship.
He called for consultation with the representatives of the principal religions.
On 2 December, in a press release, the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Darmanin, stated that in the context of the discussions with the representatives of the various religions, "a new presence gauge in the religious buildings has been established". Religious ceremonies are authorised on condition that two seats are left free between each person or family, as well as having only every second row occupied.
Discussions are to continue, in order to prepare the evolution of the containment measures expected by 15 December.

See Decree N 2020-1505 of 2 December 2020 modifying decrees n° 2020-1262 of 16 October 2020 and n° 2020-1310 of 29 October 2020 prescribing the general measures necessary to deal with the covid-19 epidemic in the context of a state of health emergency

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020 : Laïcité, freedom of expression and freedom of religion

Debates on an issue that frequently arouses passions in France, religions and secularism, were again very lively in November. They are also complex and very intertwined, since they are intertwined with other debated elements of French social and political life, and because passions around personal convictions are strong. In addition, the confinement and restrictions due to the health crisis make the social climate particularly difficult.
The debate started with the issue of freedom of expression, at the very moment when the trial of the perpetrators of the attack on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo newspaper in 2015 is being held. It was amplified by several tragic events.
The first of these events was an attack on 25 September by a young Pakistani man who stabbed two people standing near the former premises of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
This attack was followed on 16 October by the assassination of Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher at the college in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Parisian greater suburb). A few days after a class on freedom of expression, during which the teacher allegedly showed the students various cartoons, including some about the Prophet Muhammad, Samuel Paty was killed and then beheaded on his way home from school by an individual who claimed to be acting in the name of the Prophet of Islam.
Very quickly, the public discussion soon turned into a debate between, to express it in a very simplified manner, supporters of freedom of expression whatever the circumstances and proponents of respect for religious beliefs.
Thus, the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, stirred up controversy by calling for the use of cartoons of Mohammed in education to be "controlled". He will go back on his words a few days later, regretting what he called a clumsiness. Some Catholic bishops (e.g. Nicolas Brouwet, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes) made a similar speech, as did the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations of the United Nations, Spain’s Miguel Angel Moratinos, who called in a communiqué for "mutual respect of all religions and beliefs".
Generally speaking, the French position has been rather badly perceived abroad (see for instance Bulgaria), particularly in the United States, whose press has been strongly criticized in France for the way in which it has presented the situation. The New York Times shocked strongly when it entitled its article "French police shoot and kill a man after a murderous knife attack" (the title has since been changed) ; but Americans often find it difficult to understand the French situation.
President Macron, who defended the right to caricature at the national tribute to Samuel Paty on 26 October, has also sparked criticism and calls for boycott in many Muslim-majority countries. The President then went on to explain his position, defending freedom of expression, saying he understood that the cartoons might be offensive but reiterated that can never justify violence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, called for stopping these demonstrations, which come from a "radical minority".
Emmanuel Macron seems to reflect French people’s opinion on the right to caricature religious figures, which has evolved in recent years : 59% of French people believe that newspapers had " reason " to publish this type of caricatures " in the name of freedom of expression ", whereas only 38% were of this opinion in February 2006 (IFOP survey Les Français sont-ils encore Charlie ?).
On 29 October, a few days after the murder of Samuel Paty, a knife attack in a Nice basilica left three people dead.
These events triggered strong actions by the French state, measures that are part of what President Emmanuel Macron calls the fight against separatism which he outlined on 2 October in a speech on separatism and secularism.
As a result, more than fifty associative structures accused of links with Salafism or the Muslim Brotherhood, including the CCIF (Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France, an association aiming to combat Islamophobic acts), and the NGO Baraka City, have been dissolved, as well as about fifty associative structures. The mosque of Pantin, accused by the authorities of having relayed remarks that led to the assassination of Samuel Paty, has been closed for 6 months.
One element of Samuel Paty’s assassination is therefore taking a back seat, while raising equally important questions : the role of social networks. It was in fact following a denunciation that went viral on social networks, an accusation that proved to be false, that the teacher became a target.
The Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, submitted on Wednesday 18 November to the Council of State a new proposal aimed at more quickly repressing the dissemination of hate messages in the public space, particularly through social networks. Some see this proposal as yet another restriction of freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression and freedom of religion, the debates raised by these freedoms are not nearing their end.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020 : The Catholic Church, Religious Freedom and the Pandemic

Since 29 October, France has been experiencing a second period of containment, due to the resumption of the Covid-19 epidemic. Religious groups have once again been called upon to cease face-to-face religious gatherings. However, members of the Roman Catholic Church (laity, associations and bishops) are invoking freedom of worship to demand the resumption of masses. Demonstrations have taken place, with the faithful organising prayers in the streets in a number of cities in France. Numerous recours en référé have been filed. Most of them are from the traditionalist current of the Roman Catholic Church (the association Civitas, close to the fundamentalists of the Parisian church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, the Fraternité de Saint-Pierre, a traditionalist religious organisation), but there are also several bishops.
Already, at the end of the first confinement, the traditionalists had lodged an appeal before the Conseil d’Etat, refusing to wait to resume their activities, which the government demanded. They had won their case, and on 18 May the Council of State had asked the government to lift the ban on religious celebrations.
In November, however, the interim relief judge of the Council of State did not suspend the provisions of the decree of 29 October 2020 which temporarily restrict, within the framework of confinement, the possibility of gathering in places of worship.
The demonstrations continued, but only concern the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that regular attendance at mass is an important requirement of this religion, and that the first confinement seems to have caused this Church to lose many of its regular followers, although it is not yet clear whether they will resume their regular practice when the epidemic is over. However, we note that the Catholic episcopate is acting in this case without the support of the other religions, obviously expecting special treatment from the public authorities.
Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin met on 16 November with the religious leaders, as requested by the Council of State ; they explained that the sanitary conditions did not allow the resumption of public celebrations. A controlled resumption will have to take place from 1 December, depending on the sanitary conditions. The French Bishops’ Conference calls for this decision to be respected and for patience.
It is not certain that this call by the bishops will be followed by all the faithful, and other demonstrations are still taking place at the weekend, despite the Interior Minister’s warning that he would not hesitate to "send the police to issue fines", in the event of "repeated acts", to the people who would demonstrate for the reopening of masses.
These "street prayers" are incomprehensible to many people. First, some of them criticised the demonstrators for taking too lightly the health rules restricting gatherings. But the question of the legality of these public religious events in a secular France is often raised, especially after the tensions of 2017 when many elected officials had opposed prayers in the streets by Muslims who demanded the opening of a mosque.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020 : Bishops of the French Catholic church against paedophilia

The Conference of Bishops of France is publishing its third report on its actions to combat and prevent paedophilia in the Church in France, based on data provided by the dioceses. The first two were published in January 2017 and October 2018.
In 2016, the Bishops’ Conference had opened a site dedicated to the fight against paedophilia in the Catholic Church, a major scandal for years (see Eurel current debates 2016 and 2019).

Download the report

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • October 2020 : Law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by parents accompanying school outings

The senate adopted on 29 October a proposed law aimed at prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols, including the veil, by parents accompanying school outings. It had been was tabled in July, before the controversies of this autumn, by the Gaullist and liberal-conservative political party The Republicans (Les Républicains). For the Val-d’Oise senator Jacqueline Eustache-Brinio (bearer of the report to the senate on radicalism), who initiated this text, the aim is to fill a "legal void" in order to avoid leaving it up to school heads to decide. The Senate adopted the bill in first reading with 163 votes for, 114 votes against, 40 abstentions.

See :
- “Le Sénat vote l’interdiction des signes religieux pour les accompagnateurs de sorties scolaires", Le Monde, 29 octobre 2019 ;
- "Sorties scolaires : le Sénat vote pour l’interdiction du port du voile pour les mères accompagnatrices", Public Sénat.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • May 2020 : Religion and the Covid 19 epidemic

An article by Jacqueline Lalouette takes stock of religions in France at the time of Covid 19 (Jean Jaurès Foundation).

On 18 May 2020, the President of the court of the Council of State ordered the Government to lift the general and absolute ban on assembly in places of religion and to enact in its place measures strictly proportionate to the health risks and appropriate at this beginning of "deconfinement".

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • March 2020 : Facing the coronavirus epidemic

In the face of the coronavirus epidemic currently affecting most European countries, many religious groups have provided guidance on following the containment guidelines during this health crisis.

Catholicism : the Conférence des évêques de France has decreed that no Mass should be celebrated with an assembly. Funerals may be celebrated with a congregation of less than 20 people, who should be spread throughout the church ; finally, confessions should be made in places that allow a distance of one meter and not be face to face.
Islam : The Conseil français du culte musulman has called on all mosques to "suspend the organization of Friday prayers" starting next week and "until further notice". Chems-eddine Hafiz, rector, announced the closure of the Grand Mosque of Paris. The CFCM invites the faithful to do their ablutions at home, before going to the mosque. The ritual cleansing of the deceased is also suspended.
Protestantism : most Protestant churches have announced the closure of places of worship : the Eglise protestante unie de France asks to limit activities as much as possible, the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace-Lorraine cancels all worship services, the Baptist and Adventist churches have asked to close.
Judaism : the Consistoire central israélite has announced the closure of the synagogues.
Orthodoxy : Orthodox religious services have also been suspended. (See the communiqué from Métropole de France calling for the closure of the churches.)

According to a YouGov poll published by, 93% of respondents approve of the containment measure, which is considered necessary to combat the pandemic.

This year, the religious feasts of the monotheisms will all take place in April (Pesah from the 8th to the 16th ; Easter around the 12th of April for Catholics and Protestants and for Orthodox on the 19th ; Ramadan around the 24th of April). On 23 March, the President of the Republic brought together by audio conference the leaders of the main religious denominations (Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Orthodox) as well as lay and Freemasonry associations, and announced that these future religious holidays would have to take place "without gathering".
The president also said that there was no question of cremation becoming widespread for those who died of Covid-19. However, the question of funeral spaces will have to be taken into account, knowing that several Muslim squares are reaching saturation point.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • February 2020, the "Mila Affair"

At the beginning of the year 2020, an incident occurred on social networks, sparking a short but intense national debate.
It started with the words of a teenage girl, Mila, against Islam and Muslims. The girl, who poses as a lesbian, rejects the advances of another teenager in an exchange on her Instagram account. He then insults her in a racist and homophobic manner. As the threats have taken a religious turn, Mila publishes a message affirming her rejection of all religions. This prompted a wave of messages from Internet users furious at this "insult to religion". Mila then posted a video online in which, in very crude terms, she affirmed her rejection and contempt for Islam.
As a result, the teenager received a barrage of insults and threats, including death threats, from thousands of users of Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Her personal details, name, address and phone number, were made public. Her high school officials said that it would be better, under these conditions and for her safety, if Mila did not attend her school in the following days. Mila will later have to find another high school to attend.

Abdallah Zekri, the delegate general of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), made a statement on Sud Radio that provoked strong disapproval, saying "He who sows the wind reaps the storm". Shortly afterwards, CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui eased tensions by tweeting that "nothing can justify death threats against a person, no matter how serious the remarks made. It is the justice system that must pronounce the sanctions provided for by law if there is provocation and incitement to hatred." He will add in a press release : "We must accept that Islam be criticized even in its principles and foundations. [...] Freedom of expression is fundamental. It is a source of enrichment and progress through the dissemination of ideas and opinions that it allows. It is the foundation of our democracy and the bulwark against all forms of alienation."
Several political figures expressed themselves on this subject. Justice minister Nicole Belloubet attempted to support Mila, saying death threats are unacceptable in a democracy, but had the awkwardness to say that, "insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience". This is contrary to French law, as lawyer Richard Malka will point out : "the basis of freedom of conscience is not to prohibit criticism or even insult but to protect freedom of expression".

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron will in turn reaffirm the right to blasphemy and to criticize religions (see for example Le Monde).

The affair has been widely covered by the media. Numerous Internet users have also expressed their views on the issue, some condemning Mila’s comments with the keyword #JeNeSuisPasMila (I am not Mila), others declaring their support for him with #JeSuisMila.
In this, they illustrate the results of a survey by the IFOP institute, The French, the Mila Affair and the right to blasphemy, which reveals a country split in two on the possibility of criticizing religions : 50% of the interviewees said they were in favour of the right to criticize religion without limits, the other half were opposed to it. (See FranceTv info.)
Two variables are of particular importance : age and religion. Thus, 59% of 18-24 year olds and 51% of 25-34 year olds believe that insulting religion is an infringement of freedom of conscience, while this opinion is in the minority among those over 35 years of age. 68% of Muslims equate insulting a religion with an infringement of freedom of conscience, of which 46% "strongly agree".
Opposition to criticism of beliefs and dogmas is strongest among 18-24 year olds : only 41% defend "blasphemy" (compared to 31% in other age groups). This can be seen as an influence of the American way of looking at things ; the importance of young people in Muslim religious affiliation probably also plays a role.
According to the IFOP survey, 30% of French people would agree with Abdallah Zekri’s statement ("He who sows the wind reaps the storm"), 44% with the Minister of Justice ("insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience").

As a result of this case, two investigations have been opened : one against Mila, for hate speech, will be closed without follow-up. According to the public prosecutor, the remarks broadcast expressed a personal opinion about a religion, but without any intention of inciting hatred or violence. The other complaint, for calling for murder, is pending.

The substantive issue raised by the Mila case, as did the cartoons of Mohammed and the terrorist attack on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo (as well as other older and perhaps less high-profile cases, such as a 1998 Volkswagen advertisement for the Golf by the DDB Paris agency, or the Benetton advertisement showing two male religious leaders kissing on the mouth), is that of what is called the right to blasphemy. The term is improper, since in fact only believers can evoke blasphemy, and also because this notion no longer exists in French law. It is the right to criticize religions, their symbols or beliefs, even in an extreme and shocking manner. It would appear that in France there is far from unanimity on this issue.

To be consulted on this subject :
- newspaper articles : Francetv info, Marianne, 20 minutes, Le Monde.
- The IFOP survey, February 2020, Les Français, l’affaire Mila et le droit au blasphème (The French, the Mila Affair and the right to blasphemy).
- A book : #JeSuisMila #JeSuisCharlie #NousSommesLaRépublique, 50 personnalités s’expriment sur la laïcité et la liberté d’expression, Seramis, 2020

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • January 2020 : Anti-Semitism in France

During the year 2019, various anti-Semitic attacks and insults, and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries in Alsace, reminded us that anti-Semitism is far from having disappeared in France.
It appears, however, that overall prejudice is diminishing : a 2016 survey (Ipsos for the CNCDH) reveals that, although negative stereotypes persist, Jews are the best accepted minority in France : 85% of those interviewed believe that Jews are "French like any other" ; in 1946, only a third agreed with this idea. 86% of the interviewees believe that anti-Semitic statements should be condemned. Another poll (Ifop for the Union of Jewish Students in France and Sos Racism), which expresses similar results, also shows that only 2% of those interviewed reacted negatively when they learned that someone in their entourage was Jewish. Overall, religious tolerance has increased.
Although the progress made is to be welcomed, it must be noted that a proportion of the population remains intolerant. It is problematic that 14% of people would find it normal to express anti-Semitic remarks, or even that anyone could consider a member of a minority other than a Frenchman "as someone else".
The attacks of 2015 had drawn attention to attacks on Jews. These attacks do not perhaps always raise as much indignation as they deserve. The anti-Semitic acts, after having increased significantly since the 2000s, had decreased slightly in 2017 but increased again in 2019. Every year, a number of Jews prefer to leave France for Israel, although the figures provided are to be interpreted with caution.
The motives of the perpetrators are not always easy to pin down : they are probably a combination of varying degrees of political conviction, religious hatred, or search for fame.
It would be wrong to believe, however, that a general increase in racist and xenophobic acts and opinions is taking place in France in the general indifference. In 2014, an Interministerial Delegation for the Fight against Racism and Antisemitism (DILCRA) was created. The recent declaration by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announcing the creation of a national office for combating hate to the Director General of the National Gendarmerie is also evidence of the government’s willingness to commit itself against intolerance.
In February 2019, the desecration of synagogues prompted numerous reactions, including marches against anti-Semitism, and church leaders issued a Joint Declaration of Religions and Spiritualities against Anti-Semitism. In Alsace, volunteers (often members of the network Veilleurs de mémoire created by the former pastor Philippe Ichter, who is now in charge of relations with religious denominations for the Alsatian departments) are mobilising to try to fight against these hainous acts.

• Eric Keslassy, De l’antisémitisme en France. Institut Diderot, 2015.
• Jérôme Fourquet, Sylvain Manternach et Michel Wieviorka, L’an prochain à Jérusalem ? Les Juifs de France face à l’antisémitisme. Paris : Fondation Jean Jaurès, 2016.
• Emmanuel Debono, Le racisme dans le prétoire. Antisémitisme, racisme et xénophobie devant la loi. Paris : P.U.F., 2019.
• Georges Benayoun, documentaire Chronique d’un antisémitisme aujourd’hui, 2020.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 24 décembre 2020    AAnne-Laure Zwilling ANicolas Kazarian

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