Religion in France is diversified. Freedom of religion and freedom of thought are guaranteed by virtue of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The Republic is based on the principle of laïcité (or "freedom of conscience") enforced by the 1880s Jules Ferry laws and the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State. Catholicism, the religion of a now small majority of French people, is no longer the state religion that it was before the French Revolution, as well as throughout the various, non-republican regimes of the 19th century (the Restoration, the July Monarchy and the Second French Empire).
Major religions practised in France include the Catholic Church, Islam, various branches of Protestantism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Russian Orthodoxy, Armenian Christianity, and Sikhism amongst others, making it a multiconfessional country. While millions in France continue to attend religious services regularly, the overall level of observance is considerably lower than in the past. According to the Eurobarometer Poll conducted in 2010, 27% of French citizens responded that they "believe there is a God", 27% answered that they "believe there is some sort of spirit or life force", and 40% answered that they "do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force". This makes France one of the most irreligious countries in the world.
% 2007[full ]
|Other and unaffiliated Christians||-||-||5%||-|
|Other religions and unspecified||2.5%||8%||5%||2.5%|
France guarantees freedom of religion as a constitutional right and the government generally respects this right in practice. A long history of violent conflict between groups led the state to break its ties to the Catholic Church early in the 1800s and to adopt a strong commitment to maintaining a totally secular public sector.
Catholicism is the largest religion in France. During the pre-1789 Ancien Régime, France was traditionally considered the Church's eldest daughter, and the King of France always maintained close links to the Pope. This led to various conflicts, in particular between Catholics and Huguenots (French Calvinists) during the Reformation.
A strong Protestant population resided in France, primarily of Reformed confession. It was persecuted by the state for most of the time, with temporary periods of relative toleration. These wars continued throughout the 16th century, with the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre as its apex, until the 1598 Edict of Nantes issued by Henry IV.
For the first time, Huguenots were considered by the state as more than mere schismatics and heretics. The Edict of Nantes thus opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, for instance, amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the State and to bring grievances directly to the king.
The 1598 Edict also granted the Protestants fifty places of safety (places de sûreté), which were military strongholds such as La Rochelle for which the king paid 180,000 écus a year, along with a further 150 emergency forts (places de refuge), to be maintained at the Huguenots' own expense. Such an innovative act of toleration stood virtually alone in a Europe (except for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) where standard practice forced the subjects of a ruler to follow whatever religion that the ruler formally adopted - the application of the principle of cuius regio, eius religio.
Religious conflicts resumed in the end of the 17th century, when Louis XIV, the "Sun King", initiated the persecution of Huguenots by introducing the dragonnades in 1681. This wave of violence intimidated the Protestants into converting to Catholicism. He made the policy official with the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes. As a result, a large number of Protestants - estimates range from 200,000 to 500,000 - left France during the following two decades, seeking asylum in England, the United Provinces, Denmark, in the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire (Hesse, Brandenburg-Prussia, etc.), and European colonies in North America and South Africa.
On 17 January 1686, Louis XIV himself claimed that out of a Huguenot population of 800,000 to 900,000, only 1,000 to 1,500 had remained in France. A Camisard (Huguenot) rebellion broke out in 1702 in the Cevennes mountains.
The 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a state of affairs in France similar to that of virtually every other European country of the period, where only the majority state religion was tolerated. The experiment of religious toleration in Europe was effectively ended for the time being. In practice, the revocation caused France to suffer a brain drain, as it lost a large number of skilled craftsmen, including key designers such as Daniel Marot.
Upon leaving France, Huguenots took with them knowledge of important techniques and production. This had a significant effect in those regions to which they relocated, on the quality of the silk, plate glass, cabinet making, and silversmithing for which the Huguenots were renowned. Some rulers, such as Frederick Wilhelm of Brandenburg who issued the Edict of Potsdam, encouraged the Protestants to flee and settle in their countries.
During the French Revolution, the Catholic Church lost much of its power and influence. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed in 1790, put the Catholic Church under state control. While the clergy was persecuted by the commune of Paris and by some of the representatives on mission, new religions and philosophies were allowed to compete with Catholicism.
Following the Thermidorian Reaction the persecutions ceased, but the schism between the French government and the Catholic Church continued until the Concordat of 1801 by Napoleon restored some of the privileges of the church.
After the Bourbon Restoration and the coming to power of the Ultra-royalists in the Chambre introuvable, Catholic Church again became the state religion of France. Under Villèle's ultra-royalist government, the Chamber voted the extreme 1830 Anti-Sacrilege Act.
A 1905 law instituted the separation of Church and State and prohibited the government from recognising, salarying, or subsidising any religion. However the Briand-Ceretti Agreement subsequently restored for a while a formal role for the state in the appointment of Catholic bishops (though evidence for its exercise is not easily obtained). Prior to 1905, the 1801-1808 Concordat compelled the State to support the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Calvinist Church, and the Jewish religion, and to fund public religious education in those established religions.
For historical reasons, this situation is still current in Alsace-Moselle, which was a German region in 1905 and only joined France again in 1918. Alsace-Moselle maintains a local law of pre-1918 statutes which include the Concordat: the national government salaries as state civil servants the clergy of the Catholic diocese of Metz and of Strasbourg, of the Lutheran Protestant Church of Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine, of the Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine, and of the three regional Israelite consistories, and it provides for now non-compulsory religious education in those religions in public schools and universities. For also historical reasons, Catholic priests in French Guiana are civil servants of the local government.
Religious buildings built prior to 1905 at taxpayers' expense are retained by the local or national government, and may be used at no expense by religious organizations. As a consequence, most Catholic churches, Protestant temples, and Jewish synagogues are owned by the government. The government, since 1905, has been prohibited from funding any post-1905 religious edifice, and thus religions must build and support all newer religious buildings at their own expense. Some local governments de facto subsidize prayer rooms as part of greater "cultural associations".
An ongoing topic of controversy is whether the separation of Church and State should be weakened so that the government would be able to subsidize Muslim prayer rooms and the formation of imams. Advocates of such measures, such as Nicolas Sarkozy at times, declare that they would encourage the Muslim population to better integrate into the fabric of French society. Opponents contend that the state should not fund religions. Furthermore, the state ban on wearing conspicuous religious symbols, such as the Islamic female headscarf, in public schools has alienated some French Muslims, provoked minor street protests and drawn some international criticism.
Religious organizations are not required to register, but may if they wish to apply for tax-exempt status or to gain official recognition. The 1901 and 1905 laws define two categories under which religious groups may register: "associations cultuelles" (associations of worship, which are exempt from certain taxes) and "associations culturelles" (cultural associations, which are not exempt from these taxes).
Associations in these two categories are subject to certain management and financial disclosure requirements. An association of worship may organize only religious activities, loosely defined as liturgical services and practices, but no social or diaconal ones. A cultural association may engage in social as well as in profit-making activity. Although a cultural association is not exempt from taxes, it may receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations, such as schools. Religious groups normally register entities under both of these categories; churches run strictly religious activities through associations of worship and operate schools and social activities under cultural associations.
In accordance with the provisions of Title IV, Art. 19 of the Law of 9 December 1905, these associations of worship must be exclusively for the purpose of religious ministries, i.e.: the performance of religious ceremonies and services, the acquisition and maintenance of buildings of worship, the wages and the theological education of their ministers of religion.
Under the 1905 statute, religious groups must apply with the local prefecture to be recognized as an association of worship and receive tax-exempt status. The prefecture reviews the submitted documentation regarding the association's purpose for existence. To qualify, the group's purpose must be solely the practice of some form of religious ministries.
While according to the 1905 law associations of worship are not taxed on the donations that they receive, the prefecture may decide to review a group's status if the association receives a large donation or legacy that comes to the attention of the tax authorities. If the prefecture determines that the association is not in fact in conformity with the 1905 law, its status may be changed, and it may be required to pay taxes at a rate of 70 percent on the present and past donations that fall within a legal category close to that of inheritance.
As of the 2000s Buddhism in France was estimated to have between 1 million (Ministry of the Interior) strict adherents and 5 million people influenced by Buddhist doctrines (survey published on the journal Psychologies, 64)[full ], very large numbers for a Western country. According to scholar Dennis Gira, who was the director of the Institute of Science and Theology of Religions of Paris, Buddhism in France has a missionary nature and is undergoing a process of "inculturation" that may represent a new turning of the "Wheel of the Dharma", similar to those that it underwent in China and Japan, from which a new incarnation of the doctrine -- a "French Buddhism" -- will possibly arise.
About 2% of the working-age, internet connected population of France declared they were Buddhists as of 2016. In 2012, the European headquarters of the Fo Guang Shan monastic order opened in France, near Paris. It was the largest Buddhist temple in Europe at that time.
According to a survey held by Institut Montaigne and Institut français d'opinion publique (Ifop), 51.1% of the total population of France was Christian in 2016. The following year, a Ipsos survey focused on Protestants and based on 31,155 interviews found that 57.5% of the total population of France declared to be Catholic and 3.1% declared to be Protestant.
In 2016, "Ipsos Global Trends", a multi-nation survey held by Ipsos and based on approximately 1,000 interviews, found that Christianity is the religion of 45% of the working-age, internet connected population of France, 42% stated they were Catholic and 2% stated that they were Protestants. A further 1% declared to belong to an Orthodox church.
Early Christianity was already present among the Gauls by the 2nd century; Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon), detailed the deaths of ninety-year-old bishop Pothinus and other martyrs during the persecution in Lyon which took place in 177. The Gaulish church was soon established in communion with the bishop of Rome. With the Migration Period of the Germanic peoples, the Gauls were invaded by the Franks, who at first practised Frankish paganism. Their tribes were unified into a kingdom, which came to be called France, by Clovis I. He was proclaimed the king of the Franks in 509, after having been baptised in 496 by Remigius, bishop of Reims. Roman Catholicism was made the state religion of France. This made the Franks the only Germanic people who directly converted from their paganism to Roman Catholicism without first embracing Arianism, which was the first religion of choice among Germanic peoples in the Migration Period.
In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, forming the unified political and religious foundation of Christendom, medieval European Christian civilisation, and establishing in earnest France's long historical association with the Catholic Church, for which it was known as the "eldest daughter of the church" throughout the Middle Ages. The French Revolution (1789-1790), which resulted in the establishment of the French First Republic (1892-1904), involved a heavy persecution of the Catholic Church, within a policy of dechristianisation, which led to the destruction of many churches, religious orders and artworks, including the very influential Cluny Abbey. During the First French Empire (1804-1814), the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830) and the following July Monarchy (1830-1848), Roman Catholicism was made again the state religion, and maintained its role as the de facto majority religion during the French Second Republic (1848-1852) and the Second French Empire (1852-1870). Laïcité (secularism), absolute neutrality of the state with respect to religious doctrines, was first established during the Third French Republic (1870-1940) and remains the official policy of the contemporary French republic.
In 2016, relying upon Ipsos data, scholars Cleuziou and Cibois estimated that Catholics represented 53.8% of the French population. According to the same study, 23.5 % were engaged Catholics and 17% were practising Catholics. The following year, in a survey focused on Protestantism by Ipsos, 57.5% of a sample of 31,155 people declared to be Catholic.
According a survey by Ifop in 2012, 770 people out of the 37,743 interviewed (or 2.1%) declared to be Protestants of various types. About 42% of them were Calvinists (Huguenots), 21% were evangelical Protestants, 17% were Lutherans and another 20% were affiliated with other Protestant churches. The percentage rose to 3.1% in 2017, mainly due to recent conversions. Out of 100% of people that have become Protestants, 67 % were Catholic and 27 % were of no religion.
In a study regarding the various religions of France, based on 51 surveys held by the Ifop in the period 2011-2014, so based on a sample of 51.770 interviewed, there were 17.4% of Protestants in the Bas-Rhin, 7.3% in the Haut-Rhin, 7.2% in the Gard, 6.8% in the Drôme and 4.2% in the Ardèche. In the other departments this presence is residual, with, for example, only 0.5% in Côte-d'Or and in the Côtes-d'Armor.
Other Christian groups in France include the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Orthodox Christians, and other small sects. The European Court on Human Rights reckoned 249,918 "regular and occasional" Jehovah's Witnesses  and according to their official website, there are 128,759 ministers who teach the Bible in France.
A 2016 survey held by Institut Montaigne and Ifop found that 6.6% of the French population had an Islamic background, while 5.6% declared they were Muslims by faith. According to the same survey, 84.9% of people who have an Islamic background in France are still Muslims, 3.4% are Christians, 10.0% are not religious and 1.3% belong to other religions.
In the same year, Ipsos found that just 2% of the working-age, internet connected French declared they were Muslims in the Ipsos survey. This gap is most likely due to the difference of the samples, since the survey held by the Institut Montaigne and the Institut français d'opinion publique has a total sample of 15,459 people, while the Ipsos Global Trends survey has a sample of only about 1,000, so the margin of error is bigger.
There has been a Jewish presence in France since at least the early Middle Ages. France was a center of Jewish learning in the Middle Ages, but persecution increased as the Middle Ages wore on, including multiple expulsions and returns. During the late 18th century French Revolution, France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population. Antisemitism has persisted despite legal equality, as expressed in the Dreyfus affair of the late 19th century.
During World War II, the Vichy government collaborated with Nazi occupiers to deport numerous French and foreign Jewish refugees to concentration camps. 75% of the Jewish population in France survived the Holocaust.
As for 2016, 0.8% of the total population of France was Jewish, or about 535.000 people.
Paganism, in the sense of contemporary Neopaganism, in France has been described as twofold, on one side represented by ethnically identitary religious movements and on the other side by a variety of witchcraft and shamanic traditions without ethnic connotations. According to the French historian of ideas and far-right ideologies Stéphane François, the term "pagan" (Latin paganus), used by Christians to define those who maintained polytheistic religions, originally meant "countryman" in the sense of "citizen", the "insiders" (inside the cultural tradition or citizenry), and its opposite term was "alien" (Latin alienus), the "others", the "outsiders", which defined Christians. Modern French Pagans of the identitary movements hearken back to this meaning.
Identitary Pagan movements are the majority and are represented by Celtic Druidry and Germanic Heathenry, many of whom uphold the idea of a superiority of the white race and of the Indo-Europeans. They are aligned with the Nouvelle Droite political movement, espousing the idea that each ethnically-defined folk has its own natural land and natural religion. The identitary Pagan movement carries within itself a warrior ethic which is concerned with the erosion of French and European culture under growing immigration and Islamisation, so that Jean Haudry, longtime identitary Pagan and professor of linguistics at Lyon III, in a 2001 article entitled Païens ! for the journal of the organisation Terre et Peuple says that "Pagans will be at the forefront of the reconquest (of Europe)". Dominique Venner, who committed suicide in 2013 inside Notre-Dame de Paris in protest against the erosion of French culture, was a Pagan close to the Groupement de recherche et d'études pour la civilisation européenne (GRECE), an identitary Pagan think-tank founded by the Nouvelle Droite ideologist Alain de Benoist. Other politically-engaged Pagans include Pierre Vial, who with other members of the National Front was among the founders of Terre et Peuple.
France created in 1995 the first French parliamentary commission on cult activities which led to a report registering a number of religious groups considered as socially disruptive and/or dangerous.
According to French sociologist Régis Dericquebourg, in 2003 the main small religious minorities were the Jehovah's Witnesses (130,000, though the European Court on Human Rights reckoned the number as 249,918 "regular and occasional" Jehovah's Witnesses),Adventists, Evangelicals (Assemblies of God, Christian Open Door...), Mormons (31,000), Scientologists (4,000), and Soka Gakkai. According to the 2005 Association of Religion Data Archives data there are close to 4,400 Bahá'ís in France and the French government is among those who have been alarmed at the treatment of Bahá'ís in modern Iran.
Many groups have around 1,000 members (including Antoinism, Christian Science, Invitation to Life, Raelians, Mandarom, Hare Krishna) and Unification Church has 400. There are no longer members of the Family (formerly Children of God). According to the 2007 edition of the Quid, other notable religious minorities include New Apostolic Church (20,000), Universal White Brotherhood (20,000), Sukyo Mahikari (15,000-20,000), New Acropolis (10,000), Universal Alliance (1,000), and Grail Movement (950).
In Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region where French Muslims tend to be more educated and religious, the vast majority rejects violence and say they are loyal to France according to studies by Euro-Islam, a comparative research network on Islam and Muslims in the West sponsored by GSRL Paris/CNRS France and Harvard University.
The financing of mosque construction was a problematic subject for a long time; French authorities were concerned that foreign capital could be used to acquire influence in France and so in the late 80s decided to simulate the emergence of a "French Islam". The 1905 law forbids funding of religious groups by the state. According to Salah Bariki, Advisor to the Mayor of Marseille in 2001: "At the Koran training institute in Nièvre 3% of the books are written in French and everything has been paid for from abroad". She supported the public participation in financing an Islamic cultural centre in Marseille to encourage Muslims to develop and use French learning materials, as an obstacle to foreign indoctrination. Also "secular Muslims" and "actors of civil society" should be represented, not just religious officials.
Local authorities have financed the construction of mosques, sometimes without minarets and calling them Islamic "cultural centres" or municipal halls rented to "civil associations". In one case, due to FN, NRM, and MPF protests and tribunal decision, the rent for a 8,000 m2 (86,111 sq ft) terrain to be used for the construction of the Mosque of Marseilles was increased from EUR300/year to EUR24,000/year and the period reduced from 99 to 50 years.
After the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper by Al-Qaeda's followers, 2 million people in Paris including President Hollande and more than 40 world leaders led a rally of national unity.
One teacher in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb with many immigrants, reported that three quarters of the students had refused to observe the minute of silence in memory of the victims of Charlie Hebdo shooting.
There have been about 200 incidents in schools after the attack, some of them "glorifying terrorism". In Bobigny, a suburb of Paris, a couple of students grunted "Allahu Akbar" during the minute of silence - the words that were shouted by the terrorists during the attack.