Friday, January 27, 2012


I'm always learning new things about my adopted home. Lately I've been watching the (very addictive) Engrenages/Spiral, a French cop show which, as well as being very entertaining, has been filling me in on how the French justice system works (hopefully in a way that is at least vaguely in line with reality). And today, I was reading Le Monde's commentary on presidential candidate François Hollande's proposal to make the famous 1905 law on the separation of Church and State in France (the wellspring for all those recent laws and debates on stuff like wearing the veil in public) part of the French Constitution. I was very surprised to read:

En Alsace-Moselle... le concordat napoléonien, survivance anachronique, oblige les contribuables athées à payer les salaires des prêtres par le truchement de l'impôt.

In Alsace-Moselle the Concordat of 1801, an anachronistic survival, obliges atheist taxpayers to pay priests' salaries via their taxes.

Wow, really? Apparently so - in this region, priests (and rabbis, pastors etc.) of the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist persuasion receive a state salary, as Class A bureaucrats! This is based on the fact that Alsace-Moselle wasn't part of France when the 1905 law was passed. But surely someone could have changed the situation since? Is there a huge priest-paying lobby in the area? Surely there's got to be a lot of people, whether religious or not, who would agree that non-Christians/Jews shouldn't be obligated to pay the salaries of religious figures, and that it should still be at the discretion of even believers.

Of course, tax breaks for organised religions are not uncommon all over the world, including (and correct me if I'm wrong) the US and NZ, but it surprises me that France, supposed bastion of secularism, goes a step further (at least in one region) by actually directly paying the priests. I don't want to get into an argument with anyone over the benefits of religion to society or anything along those lines - I'm certainly not trying to have a go at religion in general, I just was shocked to find this information out! I have mixed feelings about the law banning the full veil in public, as well as some other stuff which is usually defended under the "we are a secular society" heading, but I feel like the continued existence of this tax system in Alsace-Moselle really undermines the legitimacy of such laws (whether or not you agree with them). Surely France should be cleaning house on the Alsace-Moselle law before turning around and claiming that they're oh so secular? If I were a Muslim woman living in Alsace-Moselle, pretty sure I'd be either wearing my veil until they got rid of that law, or refusing to pay my taxes. (Or probably neither, since I don't know if I'm really the "political firebrand" type, but it's easy to pretend when one's a hypothetical Alsace-living, veil-wearing Muslim woman on the internet.)

I must say I wouldn't mind though if they made Good Friday a public holiday for the whole of France, instead of just for Alsace and Lorraine!


  1. I watched spiral over here a while ago but the one thing that annoyed me is that the lady cop always has her mouth hanging open. And now I've told you it will annoy you too. You're welcome. x

  2. Interesting post! In Switzerland, you have to check a box on your tax form to indicate if you're Catholic or Protestant and pay a tax according to your religious denomination. When I didn't check either box, the tax department called my office to enquire about my religious beliefs. This was quite a few years ago, so I'm not sure if they would still do that.

  3. Arrgh, curses! That *is* likely to annoy me!

    Mary Kay - at least they give you the choice I suppose (unless not ticking it means that they just give it 50/50 or whatever), although can't believe they rang you to follow up on it!

  4. I feel like very few countries have true separation of church and state even when they claim to. The US most certainly does not. Religion is very important to (way too many) people there and over the past 15 years it's just been getting worse with all the fundamentalists in power. I felt like France was better at it, but yeah the exceptions for Alsace-Lorraine are a bit bizarre!

  5. move to alsace and set up your own church.

  6. Jennie - that's certainly the impression I get about the States although that's obviously second-hand on my part. We actually don't have this formal separation of Church and State in the same way in NZ, but I think most people would be horrified if our political leaders talked about God the same way certain politicians do in the States. I think most people think it's fine if someone is Christian (etc.), but wouldn't tolerate them saying that they're going to war because God told them to or whatever.

    Dad - unfortunately it's only those 4 groups I mentioned who can cash in!


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