France: deputies regulate foreign funding of cults

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French deputies voted on Friday evening for the obligation for religious associations in France to declare foreign funding exceeding 10,000 euros per year under penalty of sanction, as part of the examination of the “separatism” bill which notably aims to strengthen the arsenal against radical Islamism.

The deputies, who must vote on Tuesday at first reading on this bill “consolidating the principles of the Republic”, also adopted an amendment, presented by a deputy of the presidential party La République en Marche, making it compulsory to declare any alienation of a French place of worship to a foreign state.

The administrative authority will be able to use its right of opposition in the event of a threat “affecting a fundamental interest of society”, according to this amendment.

At the same time, the deputies validated new financing tools for religions, including the possibility of operating “investment properties” – owning and administering buildings acquired free of charge in order to derive income from them.

This provision aroused the concern of several elected officials on “a questioning of the balances” of the law of 1905, founding text of secularism in France.

The deputies voted for an amendment capping at 33% of the total annual resources of associations the income from investment properties.

With this measure, the government wants in particular to encourage Muslims and evangelicals, whose associative structures currently mainly adopt the status provided for by the law on associations of 1901, to choose the status provided for in the law of 1905, which is stricter in terms of accounting.

The French Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin explained that he wanted to encourage cults not to depend on “foreign funding”, but on “the faithful on national soil”. According to him, this is “fully in accordance with the spirit of (the law) of 1905” on the separation of church and state.

MEPs began examining the project on February 1, inspired by a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron in early October presenting his strategy to fight radical Islamism after the jihadist attacks that claimed the life of teacher Samuel Paty mid-October in the Paris region and three faithful in the basilica of Nice (South-East) two weeks later.

The bill provides for a battery of measures on the neutrality of the public service, the fight against online hatred, family education, strengthened control of associations, better transparency of religions and their funding, and even the fight against certificates of virginity, polygamy or forced marriages.