Home > State support > France > 2011-07-19 - Council of State, Commune de Trélazé, n. 308544

2011-07-19 - Council of State, Commune de Trélazé, n. 308544

State support · France · Public funding · Religious heritage

Purchasing an organ for a church by a city council is not public funding prohibited by the 1905 Act

Key facts of the case - The City council of Trélazé had decided to purchase and restore an organ in order to put it into the main Church of the city. An inhabitant of the town lodged an appeal with the administrative Court of Nantes to obtain the annulment of this resolution on the grounds that it infringes the provisions of the December 9th, 1905 Act, which prevents public authorities from funding the Churches and religious activities. The City council of Trélazé then asked the Administrative Court of Nantes to overrule the judgment annulling the resolution. The Administrative Court upheld the first judgment. It referred to the conjunction of articles 2 and 13 of the 1905 Act. Indeed, 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”. In the light of those provisions, the Court deemed on the one hand that the purchase of an organ for a church does not belong to the expenses for maintenance purposes it is question of in the article 13 of the 1905 Act related to the separation between Church and State. Indeed, it may be qualified of cultural investment, since it will be, according to the City council, used for cultural events only. On the other hand, the organ standing in the church would automatically be included in the goods let at the disposal of the clergy and the faithful for worship. Accordingly, the funding of the organ constitutes an indirect subsidy to worship, forbidden by the article 2 and 19 of the 1905 Act.
The City of Trélazé lodged an appeal with the Council of State.

Main reasoning of the court – The Council of State overturned the ruling of Administrative Court of appeal of Nantes. The Council refers to the above mentioned provisions but also to 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. Hence, the Council of State’s decision is twofold. On the one hand, it decides that those provisions do not prevent the city from purchasing an organ or any other similar good with the view to foster artistic education and cultural events for the city public interest purpose, whilst this organ might possibly be used for religious worship.
On the other hand, the same provisions do not further prevent the city from passing a convention with the clergy to settle the conditions of use of the organ.
The Council of State has annulled the administrative court of appeal of Nantes’s judgment.