The Honorable Jean-Yves le Drian
Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
We write as an informal group of organizations and individuals who are religious and secular leaders, human rights advocates, practitioners, and scholars to express our deep concerns about a piece of legislation, “Consolidating the Respect of the Principles of the Republic” (“the Bill”), which is currently being considered in the French Parliament.
This letter is a multi-faith initiative of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable, an inclusive (of all faiths and none), equal citizenship group that has proven it is possible to engage cooperatively and constructively across deep differences and increase mutual understanding, respect, trust, and reliance through joint advocacy actions. Central to our efforts is our non-sectarian, non-partisan approach that identifies and builds upon common ground and multi-faith consensus.
While we hold an extremely broad diversity of theological views and political positions, we all agree on the importance of religious freedom and work together in support of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is a positive social good that strengthens cultures and provides the foundation for stable democracies and their components, including civil society, social harmony, safety and security, and economic development and prosperity.
In considering the purpose of the Bill, we all agree on the need to do everything in our power to undermine and combat all forms of violent extremism and terrorism. Consider us partners in this effort.
We are troubled, however, by several amendments that were made to the Bill before it was sent to the National Assembly, which will increase restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion—in violation of the Principles of the Republic. Specifically, we are most concerned about the following provisions, which also contradict the Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)-Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities (“the Guidelines”):
- Article 8-13 enables the possibility of a religious association being dissolved directly by
the Council of Ministers—the government, before any judicial process—for an action taken be an individual member of the association.
- Article 10 defines the framework for added scrutiny by the tax administration of the conformity of tax receipts issued by religious associations for donations, which enables
the possibility of the tax administration accessing the nominative records maintained by associations.
- Article 26 requires religious associations to have specific bylaws that require the association to have an official council that decides on the hiring of religious ministers, and on any new members. This sets a dangerous precedent of intruding on the autonomy of religious communities and their internal rules.
- Article 27 imposes an obligation on religious associations to register as such with the prefect when they are created, and then every five years, to benefit from certain tax measures. This constitutes a breach of free church practice by effectively establishing the need to obtain an administrative agreement on plans of action. Further, this article states that the prefect can at any time withdraw the benefit of these tax measures, for reasons related to the disrespect of the Law of 1905, or established order pronouncements.
- Article 30 changes the way religious associations will have to register. Until now, a religious association can register under the provisions of the 1901 Law on Associations, with total freedom of association, or under the Law of 1905, which has more constraints
but tax advantages. This article would require religious associations registered under the 1901 Law to operate under the same constraints of those registered under the 1905 Law, but without the tax advantages. Which means that under the l901 Law, religious associations will be discriminated against compared to any other type of association.
- Article 33 negatively impacts the ability of religious associations to benefit from foreign donations. This article imposes a costly obligation to have the association accounts certified, regardless of the common law threshold, and imposes a penalty on the religious association’s chairperson for not abiding by the accountancy rules applying to it. This is unprecedented for all non-profit associations.
These provisions are problematic for several reasons but consider the two most glaring.
First, they will violate basic principles of the French Republic—in the Bill that is meant to consolidate respect for such. We know France is committed to the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights of all people, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
- Article 1 of the Constitution of France states: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organised on a decentralized basis.”
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which created the foundation on which all the international mechanisms to defend human rights have been built, was adopted in Paris, France on 10 December 1948. France utilized the recently celebrated 70th anniversary of the UDHR to recall that human rights should be defended and strengthened everywhere in the world.
- • France has remained a supporter of human rights throughout international treaty negotiations and has ratified almost all major international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 4 November 1980.
- • Article 18 of the UDHR and ICCPR states: “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.”
Second, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is an effective counter-terrorism weapon, key to French national security interests, as it pre-emptively undermines religious extremism. History and modern scholarship make it clear that where people are allowed to practice their faith freely, they are less likely to be alienated from the government, and more
ikely to be good citizens.
Such conclusions are increasingly bolstered by empirical research. Dr. Brian Grim, a noted expert on society and religion, found a strong correlation between government restrictions on religion and religiously-motivated violence.
Further, an exhaustive study by academics from Harvard, Notre Dame, and Georgetown found “that religious communities are most likely to support democracy, peace and freedom for other faiths, and least likely to take up the gun or form dictatorships, when governments allow them freedom to worship, practice and express their faiths freely and when religious communities in turn renounce their claims to permanent offices or positions of policy-making authority.”
Further, the 2019 OSCE ODIHR Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security Policy Guidance included the following statement:
…much of the contemporary discourse on freedom of religion or belief and security calls for a balance between these values or suggests that at least some aspects of this freedom must be sacrificed to achieve security. This discourse contradicts the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security, which does not frame freedom of religion or belief and security as competing rights, but recognizes them as complementary, interdependent and mutually reinforcing objectives that can and must be advanced together.
We therefore urge you to honor the French principles and international commitments and ensure that the spirit of freedom in the Law of 1905 is preserved, and that freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is secured for all peaceful religious or belief communities that do not represent a terrorist threat and do not provoke hatred or violence. This will help to achieve the goals of the Bill.
Thank you for your consideration.
International Religious Freedom Roundtable
ADO Alevi Philosophy Center Association
Anatolian Religions and Beliefs Platform (ARBP)
Center for Pluralism
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office Washington, D
Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Libe
Global Christian Ministers Federation
Independent Old Catholic Church
International Christian Concern
With titles and organizations for identification purposes only
Rev. Joseph K. Grieboski
Senior Fellow, The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute
Rev. Dr. Nehemiah Christie
Co-Chairman, Global Christian Ministers Federation
Rev. N. J. L’Heureux, Jr.
Executive Director Emeritus, Queens Federation of Churches
President, Red Eagle Enterprises
U.S. Secretary of State
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom