The Observatory of Secularism suggests new ways of financing worship

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While the official installation of the new Fondation de l'islam de France, partly responsible for channeling the sources of funding for Muslim worship, is scheduled for next December, the Secularism Observatory published on November 8 a report mainly on the financial control of religious associations. This vade-mecum, which mainly concerns Islam, should enlighten public and private actors in terms of direct or non-direct subsidies. Proposals do not concern the departments of Alsace-Moselle, Guyana and certain overseas communities.

The construction and financing of places of worship, particularly Muslim, is a recurring subject, almost a sea serpent as the occurrence is high to the point of resembling regularity. In addition to the subject of hate preaching, there are those of land and direct or indirect funding of places of worship. It is these last two points that the Secularism Observatory has chosen to take up to make proposals to public authorities and associations. The organization presents its suggestions under the title " Opinion on the financing, construction and management of religious buildings ”Whose general line is the clarification of finances and the proposal of avenues to be cleared to facilitate the construction of buildings dedicated to worship.

First, the report provides a quick overview by mentioning various reports from senators or the Central Office of Worship on the funding of denominational associations, the need for transparency regarding the funding of the Muslim religion, and on the management and construction places dedicated to the ritual expression of religion. It is a question of synthesizing what has already been expressed here and there and of aggregating proposals.

The inventory gives a figure of 100 places relating to the faith, an average of 2,5 per municipality, the largest number being by far Catholic with 45 parish churches of which 000 belong to the municipalities, the rest being the property of the dioceses, in addition to the 40 cathedrals of the State as well as 'an immense number of private chapels, abbeys or places of worship in schools or hospitals, for example, which bring the figure to 000. The other main cults, in a France with an essentially Catholic history, are numerically far behind in terms of buildings: there are 87 Protestant temples of which 90 are evangelical, 000 to 4 mosques, 000 Orthodox churches according to the Ministry of the Interior (up to 200 according to Monsignor Nestor Sirotenko, Bishop of Chersonese, representative in France of the Russian Orthodox Church). The report of the Observatory of secularism does not look at the Israelite and Buddhist cults for the reason that the important heritage of the first "is no longer adapted to the current geographical distribution of the participants", and that, concerning the second , “The positive law on the construction, management and financing of places of worship is considered satisfactory”.

Senator Maurey's report presented on May 17, 2015, entitled "Local authorities and the financing of places of worship", notes that if requests for funding of religious buildings largely concern Catholic worship (48%), these are only requests for the renovation, maintenance and development of existing places of worship, a figure that can be explained by the strong representation of places of worship of this denomination on the territory. By way of comparison, if the requests for financing relating to Islamic buildings are on average at 3% in the whole country, as soon as a "municipality has at least one Muslim place of worship, the proportion of requests for mosque financing increases. (33%) ”. Precisely, underlines the report, “in the communes of 5 000 inhabitants and more, when the requests emanate from the Moslem religion for example, they relate especially to the construction of new places of worship (21%) and hardly the renovation of places. of existing worship (4%) ”.

The most interesting part of the Observatory's report is that devoted to the changes desired by the organization with regard to financing, long-term leases with real rights granted to beneficiaries and loan guarantees.

Facilitate and control the financing of places of worship throughout the territory

Worship is financed by the faithful, from foreign states, for example the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of Paris recently inaugurated and entirely built with the help of Russia. These foreign donations, whether they come from States or their citizens, are considered private under French law even if a distinction is made according to whether they come from governments or their citizens. Muslim worship is, for its part, also partly financed from abroad, in addition to the offerings of its faithful in France, particularly high during the month of Ramadan. In his report entitled " From Islam in France to an Islam in France, establishing transparency and removing ambiguities ”, Recorded on July 5 of this year, Senator Nathalie Goulet estimates that 80% of mosques' funding comes from donations from practitioners. The report notes that “these donations are most often made manually, in cash, making it impossible to trace their origin and, a fortiori, any national consolidation ”, while many are the countries of the Persian Gulf to control the origin and the use of the sums paid. He stresses, however, that if it is necessary to supervise these donations, this control should be extended to other religions. If the share of financing from abroad is low, it poses a problem because of its origins. Four foreign states mainly support the Muslim cult in France, Turkey finances more imams, which it sends, than buildings; Morocco paid 6 million euros for the construction of mosques and the remuneration of imams in 2016 (compared to 4 million in 2013); Algeria was funding Muslim worship to the tune of 4 million euros per year until 2011, it claims not to do so since, except for the Great Mosque of Paris for 2 million per year; the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to France provides the figure of 3 euros. To these figures given by these states, we must add the donations of their citizens: for example, the Saudi diplomatic representation declares that “three private donations were also paid through the intermediary of the embassy for the construction of mosques in France. ".

The opacity of funding and resources not only favors donations without real evaluation, it also harms believers, for example by allowing sums to be diverted more easily than in an association subject to the chart of accounts; so the rector of the Nanterre mosque had deflected 530 euros intended for the construction of a mosque.

To clarify funding, the Secularism Observatory suggests several avenues. The organization proposes to strengthen financial control, on documents, provided for by article 21 of the law of December 9, 1905 separating Church and State, and to extend this control to associations of the law of 1901 whose object is the maintenance or construction of religious buildings. Only associations of public utility under the 1901 law or those having an economic activity or benefiting from public aid exceeding 153 euros are required to publish their accounts. The Observatory also proposes lowering the threshold for amounts received for the certification of accounts from 153 to 000 euros annually; from this new floor, an association should appoint an auditor to establish a certification of its cash. The report suggests "a voluntary contribution on halal" for the financing of the Muslim faith, but considers that it "is only possible if it is put in place by the representatives of the Muslim faith themselves as a private fee for services returned”. The idea is also put forward of allowing the redemption of long-term administrative leases by which public authorities have granted land to religious communities for the construction of their places of worship, which would allow the many Catholic churches erected from the 100s who see their lease coming to an end soon to stay put. Finally, while the General Code of Local Authorities (articles L 000-1930 and L2252-4) currently provides for the possibility for developing towns to grant loan guarantees to communities wishing to obtain places of worship among their followers, the report suggests extending this right to the whole territory so that rural communities can, if they so wish, respond favorably to associations wishing to obtain a loan guarantee in order to have easier access to Bank loans.

This report encourages to facilitate the installation of places of worship and to increasingly come to terms with the law of December 9, 1905, while recently the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, had proposed that public authorities put empty churches. available to Muslim communities. Currently, mayors indirectly subsidize the Muslim faith through the legal financing of cultural activities like the classrooms, but also cults of other denominations like the cathedral of Evry inside which there was a cultural center, completed 20 years ago and financially supported by the State to the tune of 5 million francs. The Fondation de l'islam should make it possible to reduce donations from foreign states in order to ensure the autonomy of Muslims in France.

Hans-Søren Dag


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