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2011-07-19 - Council of State, Fédération de la libre pensée et de l’action sociale du Rhône, n. 308817

State support · France · Public funding · Religious heritage

The city of Lyon can legally fund an elevator to make the access to a church easier

Key facts of the case - The applicant is the Federation of the Free Thinking and of social action of the Rhône county. It sought to make annul the City council of Lyon’s decision to grant a subsidy of 1,5 million francs to the Fourvière Fondation. This subsidy was meant to contribute to the financing of an elevator to make the access to the basilica of Fourvière easier for disabled persons. The applicant’s appeal was dismissed by the administrative court of Lyon in 2002 and later on by the administrative court of appeal of Lyon in 2007. The Federation accordingly lodges an appeal with the Council of State.

Reasoning of the court - The Council of State refers to articles 2 and 13 of the 1905 Act. Article 2 provides that “ the Republic neither recognizes nor salaries or subsidizes any religion » while, pursuant to article 13, “the State, the Departments, the Cities and the public establishments of inter-cities cooperation will be entitled to grant the subsidies necessary to the maintenance and the conservation of the places of worship they own”. Moreover, the Council quotes article 5 of the Act of 2 January 1907, which guarantees to the clergy and the faithful the use of the place of worship for religious purpose.
The Court takes the view that those provisions nevertheless allow the financing by a City of the maintenance and preservation works under the condition that the equipment at stake corresponds to a local public interest based on the cultural importance of the place of worship and the touristic and economic development of the City and is not of religious use on the one hand, and, on the other hand, that the public subsidy is not granted to a religious association (association cultuelle) and is used for financing the equipment only.
If those conditions are met, the fact that this equipment might be also used by the worshipers does not affect the legality of the City of Lyon’s decision.
Accordingly, the judgment of the administrative Court of appeal of Lyon is upheld.