Home > State support > France > 2005-03-16 - Council of State, Ministre de l’Outremer, n. 265560

2005-03-16 - Council of State, Ministre de l’Outremer, n. 265560

State support · France · Public funding

Subsidies corresponding to a public interest is compatible with the principle of laïcité

Key facts of the case - The president of the French Polynesia Territory’s decision to grant a subsidy of 8,5 millions of francs dedicated to the building of a presbytery previously destroyed by a cyclone in 1998. The minister of the Overseas had failed in obtaining the annulment of this decision before the administrative court of Papeete and the administrative court of appeal of Paris. He has then lodged an appeal with the Council of State, the highest court for administrative matters. He argues that this decision is in breach of the principle of laïcité and cannot be held for answering to a public local interest, as it was held by the administrative court of appeal.

Main reasoning of the court - First, the Council of State holds that the constitutional principle of laïcité is applicable in French Polynesia and implies the neutrality of the State and of the local public bodies of the Republic, and the equal treatment among the religious institutions as well. Hence the Council deems that the principle of laïcité in itself does not prohibit the granting of certain subsidies to activities and premises or facilities related to religious institutions, when such a granting answers to common/general interest and meet the legal criteria. Furthermore, article 2 of the 1905 Act of separation between State and Church, which prohibits public funding, is not applicable in French Polynesia.
In the present case, the Council of State holds that the administrative court of appeal was right by deciding that the evangelical Church building played a role in numerous social and educational activities especially in the remote isles of Polynesia. Indeed, after the cyclone, the presbytery had been open to all inhabitants and welcomed the disaster-stricken.