System of Church-State Relations and Freedom of Art. On the occasion of the French Council of State, 25 October 2017, N ° 396990 Fédération morbihannaise de la Libre Pensée et autres

Dr Ioannis  E. Kastanas 
Adjunct faculty- Post-Doctoral researcher
Faculty of Law, University of Nicosia
I. Religious freedom and the concept of  laicité in the French legal order 
II. The right of artistic creation in France and the potential conflict  with the right of freedom of religion 
III. Thoughts on the occasion of  the  French Council of State , 25 October 2017, N ° 396990 Fédération morbihannaise de la Libre Pensée et autres 
1. The factual circumstances and the judgement of the courts 
2. Is there a conflict between the freedom of religion – laicité and the right to artistic creation ? 
I.Freedom of religion and the concept of laicité  in the French legal order 
In France the legal status of the religions was formed in the functioning of the Catholic church. Under the Third Republic the privileges of the Catholic Church ceased and progressively1 the currently standing status  of the strict separation of the Church and State was formed. These historical reasons explain why religious freedom is not declared expressly and clearly by the Constitution of the 4th of October 1958 nor by the Constitutional Council2. This led the French theory to distinguish the sources which enshrine the freedom of religion into recognized (which namely already enshrine the freedom of religion) and potential (namely texts which contain principles of constitutional law in which a future decision of the Constitutional Council can establish freedom of religion). With regard to the recognised sources   the following sources  ought to be underlined in brief:  prior to 1971 the theoreticians of Constitutional Law  were not in  agreement whether the preamble of the Constitution of the 4th of October 1958 indeed has or does not have constitutional value3. Following the decision of the 16th of July 19714 it is accepted that it is contained in the constitutional bloc.  With respect to the freedom of religion, a greater number of provisions prior to the First Republic were activated again by the preamble and article 1 of the French Constitution was supplemented. In accordance with the letter of the preamble of  the 1958 Constitution: ‘Le Peuple français proclame solennellement son attachement aux Droits de l'Homme et aux principes de la souveraineté nationale tels qu'ils ont été définis par la Déclaration de 1789, confirmée et complétée par le préambule de la Constitution de 1946, ainsi qu'aux droits et devoirs définis dans la Charte de l'environnement de 2004.
En vertu de ces principes et de celui de la libre détermination des peuples, la République offre aux territoires d'outre-mer qui manifestent la volonté d'y adhérer des institutions nouvelles fondées sur l'idéal commun de liberté, d'égalité et de fraternité et conçues en vue de leur évolution démocratique.’ In accordance with this citation article 10 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of the 26th August 1789 and the preamble of the Constitution of the 27th of October 1946 are integrated in the posited constitutional law. The accurate content of article 10 of the Declaration did not find the doctrine in agreement5. According to the more correct view the phrase  ‘même religieuses’ contains an innovation: the assimilation of the religious beliefs with the political, philosophical, social beliefs etc.6 It must be observed that article 10 recognizes and protects a civil right whose reference to ‘manifestations’ introduces a direct link with the next article which enshrines ‘la libre communication  des pensées et des opinions’. However the freedom of worship is absent from the Declaration. The preamble of the 1946 Constitution enshrines in principle  that  ‘.Au lendemain de la victoire remportée par les peuples libres sur les régimes qui ont tenté d'asservir et de dégrader la personne humaine, le peuple français proclame à nouveau que tout être humain, sans distinction de race, de religion ni de croyance, possède des droits inaliénables et sacrés. Il réaffirme solennellement les droits et libertés de l'homme et du citoyen consacrés par la Déclaration des droits de 1789 et les principes fondamentaux reconnus par les lois de la République’ a provision general in wording which raises contestations. Furthermore, the preamble of the 1946 Constitution attributes constitutional value to the fundamental values which are recognized by the laws of  the Republic. Such a principle  is the one of laicité7 without yet determining  its accurate content. The standing Constitution is considerably laconic. In article 1 it  is stated: ‘La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l'égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d'origine, de race ou de religion. Elle respecte toutes les croyances. Son organisation est décentralisée’ It is noted that the constitutional text uses the term ‘religion’ and not ‘culte’ and that laicité8 is not specified  and hence the burden of its determination falls upon the doctrine and the jurisprudence. The concept of laicité  is intertwined with the potential sources and mainly  with the law of the separation of the State and the Church of 1905  which contains a series of fundamental principles which are enshrined by the laws of the  Republic9. A clear definition of laicité does not exist as this is a concept in principle  polysemous and historically charged10. This unclarity extends also to the area of law11. According to some authors the principle of laicité is defined in the law of 1905 which attributed to it constitutional value. In general however in the theory and the jurisprudence of the  French courts there are two main trends as to the delimitation of the concept of laicité. The first which is characterised as the  negative  concept of laicité and now is obsolete and the second which favours a positive concept of laicité and is dominant today12. The jurisprudence has expressly dismissed a negative direction of laicité. The principle in question does not entail either a denial  of the State towards  all the religions, nor the obligation that  national education be staffed with lay persons nor the prohibition of the funding of religions13. The assimilation of the principle of laicité or   a laicisme of the State is contrary to the case law of the Council of State14. Such a wording does not favour any type of laicisme of the State on the grounds that as is noted by the commissaire du gouvernement Kessler in his conclusions in judgement Kherouaa of the 2nd of November 1992,  ‘laicite n’apparait plus comme un principe qui justifie l’interdiction de toute manifestation religieuse. L’enseignement est laic non parce qu’il interdit l’expression des differentes fois, mais au contraire parce qu’il les tolere toutes […]Ce renversement de perspective […] fait de la liberte le principe at de l’interdit l’exception’15. Dismissing the negative view, the prevailing view adopts an open concept of it which is summarised in the following three elements: freedom of religion16, State neutrality17, and pluralism18. From the recent case law it is worth mentioning the decisions of the Council of State for the placement  of a  manger by Municipalities. These decisions19 found that the placement of a  manger by the Municipalities is tolerable with the principle of laicité insofar as  the following conditions are cumulatively fulfilled: the placement is temporary, the artistic, cultural and festive spirit is guaranteed, there is either neither an identification with any religion nor an insinuation of religious preference in the sense that the framework of the depiction must be free from any  element of proselytism, further, the existence or absence of local customs and habits and lastly the place of the placement. The place of the placement plays a  crucial part  as the compatibility to the laicité  ranges depending on whether we have the case of a public building which is the seat of a public agency or a public organisation or of  another public space (e.g. a square). In the case of the seat of a public service or a public organisation the placement of a manger in principle is prohibited unless  special conditions are fulfilled which permit that it be recognized a character that is cultural, artistic, or festive in which case it is rendered compatible to the conditions which emanate from the principle of the neutrality of public Legal Persons. In the other public spaces the placement in principle is permitted insofar as it arises that it was made owing to festive  events which are related to the end-of-year  holidays and during their period and simultaneously the placement does not constitute an act of proselytization or a  demand of a religious viewpoint. 
II. The right of artistic freedom in France and the potential conflict with the right of freedom of religion. The first article of the  Law of the 7th of July 2016 on the freedom of creation, architecture and inheritance expressly states that artistic freedom is free. The text follows the trail of the laws of the 29th of July 1881 on the freedom of the press and of the 30th of September 1986 on the freedom of communication. Despite that it is true that this law covers a gap in the list of the fundamental rights and freedoms which are recognized in the French legal order the beginnings will have to be sought in the Ancien Regime. The Versailles declaration  which was drawn up by Louis XVI on the 15th of March 1777 had already declared the freedom of art20. Furthermore, despite that freedom is not enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen it is perceived for some time now as the foundation of the author’s right21. At this point it must be highlighted that the recently legislatively enshrined  freedom of artistic creation constitutes an integral part of the broader fundamental freedom of this freedom of expression22. The assimilation as to the freedom of expression is equally made apparent  in relation to  article 2 of the law despite the intentions of the legislator23. The doctrine ends in emphatically noting that no new freedom is enshrined24. Artistic creation is susceptible to conflicts with freedom of religion. The conflict between the right to expression and, hence also the right to   artistic creation,  with the right of the expression of religious beliefs usually assumes the following two forms: either the religious discourse contests the right to   expression or artistic creation can offend religious beliefs25. John Rawls alleges that when there is a conflict between fundamental rights they must be mutually adjusted when the harmonisation cannot be applied26. Furthermore, Rawls notes that the fundamental freedoms cannot be deprived to such a degree owing to national security or proportionality between two evils27. The fundamental freedoms may be restricted only for the sake of another freedom28. Jürgen Habermas also contests the effectuality of the harmonisation. In his view harmonisation is the deprivation of rights from their constitutional power29. He suggest  that judicial bodies will have to find a right which is the most appropriate for the circumstance and to judge the case exclusively on the basis of this right30. According to John Hart Ely neither the authoritative concept of the letter of the Constitution nor the historical framework of the integration of the fundamental rights in the Constitution nor the legislative interpretation can be regarded as a satisfactory exposition of the rights31. Thus it falls upon the Constitutional Court to interpret the constitutional provisions with regard to   fundamental rights and,  what is of the highest importance,   its interpretation must be compatible to democratic will-formation32
III. Thoughts on the occasion  of the French  Council of State, 25 October 2017, N ° 396990 Fédération morbihannaise de la Libre Pensée et autres
1. The factual circumstances and the judgement of the courts. A French community accepted the donation of a sculpture of the Pope John Paul II which it placed in a public space. The community however did not suffice itself in the placement of the statue but added  over it an ark of 7.5 meters at the top of which it placed a cross. This act of the community was contested by the Atheists’ Association before  the administrative courts. The Administrative Court of First Instance ruled that article 28 of the law of 190533 on the separation of the State-Church has been violated. On the contrary the Administrative Court of Appeals judged that the act of the community is in compliance with article 28. Thus the case was brought before the Council of State which it partially annulled the decision of the community34. In particular it found that the placement of the ark does not infringe  the law of 1905. On the contrary the same does not apply also for the cross which was considered by the Council of State as a religious symbol and it is incompatible to the laicité on the grounds in fact that  it does not also fall under the express and restrictive exceptions of article 28 of the law of the 9th of December 1905. 
2. Is there a conflict between freedom of religion – the principle of  laicité and the right of  artistic creation? From the foregoing  the question also arises if from the behaviour of the community a conflict is caused between the right to artistic creation and laicité or do  we merely have the case of  its ad hoc expression? According to the view which will be adopted the judgement of the French Council of State  will be regarded as resolving this conflict or adding  a further  tile to the mosaic of the views on laicité. At a second level there shall be judged the correctness of the specific settlement  of the matter. The answer however depends on the  question if the community has the right to artistic creation. Broadly speaking, can a PLLP (such is the community)  have fundamental rights in general and in the concrete case  the right for artistic expression? The scholarly discussion on whether  the PLLP’s or more broadly the public Legal Persons have fundamental rights is not new35. The view prevailing36 in the doctrine accepts that the PLLP’s may have fundamental human rights while the dissenting view that the PLLP’s cannot be bearers of fundamental human rights37. As more correct we regard the view pursuant to which the PLLP’s have the fundamental rights which are attributed to them by the Constitution and the laws in accordance with them and cumulatively these rights befit a legal person. The right to  artistic creation / expression is connected  from its nature with a human activity. Only the human being can create art. The addition therefore by the competent organs of the community of the ark of 7.5 meters and the cross over it constitutes a material action  which however does not constitute the exercise of a right. Thus insofar as the community does not even have the right to artistic creation no matter arises  of conflict of rights. What remains to be clarified is if the interpretation which was given to article 28 of the law of the 9th of December 1905 and through  it  to  laicité is satisfactory. At this point the following points must be taken note of. Firstly, this decision of the Council of State  is contrary to the concept of laicité as it was defined in the judgement on the placement of a  manger by Municipalities without, in the opinion of the author, a significant reason. In particular the  manger namely the representation of the birth of Jesus Christ (the infant Jesus on a  manger surrounded by the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the ass and the ox, equally constitutes a religious symbol as also the Cross. It must also be noted that the Crucified namely Jesus Christ on the Holy Cross has been found by the ECtHR as a pathetic symbol . Moreover, it is not reasonable that the representation of Jesus as an infant on a  manger is harmonised with the laicité  even conditionally and the Cross is in no event harmonised. Furthermore, the same statue of the Pope constitutes a religious symbol. The Pope of Rome except for a supreme state ruler of the Vatican City State is the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church and in accordance with  its domestic law the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle. Also in common experience the Pope is perceived firstly as a religious leader – symbol and secondarily as a state organ. The consistent interpretation of article 28 prescribes that not even the statue of the Pope be placed. This reasoning is strengthened also by the fact that the depicted Pope (John  Paul II) has been designated as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Is it possible that the statute of a saint is not to be regarded as a religious symbol? 
Conclusion. From the foregoing it arises that of course in the present case there is no  conflict between the freedom of religion and the freedom of art as to the facet of artistic creation and expression and yet the approach of the concept of laicité via the interpretation of    article 218 of the law of 1905 is not beyond contestation. It eventually elevates the fluid  and  volatile content  of the concept of laicité  and is the diachronically stable element in its approach, albeit driving the judge to the limits of his competence insofar as  the determination of the precise concept of laicité can force the judge to act as a legislator.  
* Το άρθρο αποτελεί ανεπτυγμένη μορφή της εισήγησης του συγγραφέα στο συνέδριο "Universality v Particularity: Human Rights and Religions” που διεξήχθη στη Λευκωσία κατά το διήμερο  8-9 Ιουνίου 2018.
1.P.Pactet, Textes de droit constitutionnel, 1995, Paris: LGDJ,  p. 16. 
2.F. Messner, P.-H.Prelot, J.-M. Woehrling (dir) Traité de droit des religions, 2003 Paris : Litec, p. 383
3.P.Pelloux, Quelques reflexions sur le Preambule de la Constitution francaise de 1958: Melanges Basdevant, 1960 Paris :Pédone,  p. 389. 
4.Conseil Constitutionnel, 16 juillet 1971, Liberté d’association: Rec. Cons. Const., p.29; GDCC 2001, n®19, p. 238; RJC pp. 1-24; AJDA 1971, p. 537 , note J.Rivero; D. 1974, chron., 83, note L.Hamon; RD public 1971, 1171, note J.Robert.
5.On the various views see  F.Messner..,op. cit, p. 387.
6.L.Duguit, Manuel de droit constitutionnel, 1911 Paris: Fontemoing et Cie 2e ed., p. 247.
7.CE, 6 avril 2001, Syndicat national des enseignants du second degré: AJDA 2002, 63, note B. Toulemonde; RDL 2001 n® 33, 56, note JMW.
8.J. P. Costa, Les laicites a la francaise, Paris, 1998, PUF, 1998,  pp. 9-15.
9.Messner,  pp. 390-392.
10.Laicite que sais-je, p. 5;”La laicite est a la fois une idee abstraite, un concept, un mythe, une utopie et sans doute quelques autres choses encore” (B. Etienne, “Laicite st meconnerie, le cas du Grand Orient de France”, Revue des Deux Mondes, 04/2002,  p. 9)
11.M. Bardier, La laicite, 1995 Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 636.
12.F.Messner.., op.cit,pp.394-398 ;X.Delsol,A.Garay,Em.Tawil Droit des cultes, 2005 : Juris éditions,p.170.
13.X.Delsol.., op.cit., p. 170.
14.CE, avis Kherouaa, 27 novembre 1989, GACE n°22.
15.D. Kessler, conclusions sur CE, 2 novembre 1992, Kherouaa, note G. Koubi, D. 1993, p. 110.
16.F.Messner, op. cit., pp. 404-405; D.Rousseau, Droit du contentieux constitutionnel, 2001 Paris :Montechrestien , p.391; Cos.Const., 12 janvier 1977, Fouille des véhicules: Rec.Cons., p.33=GDCC n°25=AJDA 1978, p. 215, note J.Rivero=D. 1978, jurispr. P. 173, note L.Hamon and J.Ieaute=RD publ. 1978, p. 821,obs. L.Favoreau..
17. State neutrality may have a restrictive – negative aspect and a positive aspect. According to the negative view laicise is based on a double negation; the denial of recognition and the denial of subsidisation. The State in essence ignores the religious phenomenon. This view met the opposition of the doctrine see. The positive view which will be regarded as also the more correct view adopts an open perspective of laicité. R. Peloloux, Quelques reflexions sur le preambule de la Constitution francaise de 1958, Melanges, p. 391;R.Chavrin-J.-J.Sueur, Droits de l’homme et libertés de la personne, 2000 Paris : Litec, p172 . Citing the words of the President of the Committee on the Constitution ‘la laicite (….) n’est pas une philosophie, ni une doctrine, c’est simplement la coexistence de toutes les philosophies, de toutes de doctrines, le respect de toutes opininos et de toutes le croyances”’.
18.R. Metz, Eglises et Etat en France,Paris: Cerf 1977,  36-37;Conseil d’Etat, Rapport public 2004, pp. 277-278.
19.For further elaboration of the ruling at hand, see I. Kastanas, Crιb installation by Municipalities (On the occasion on Conseil d’Etat no 395122 και no 3952 23 9/11/ 2016), Nomokanonika 2/2017, p. 69-82
20.A. Jourdan,Decrusy and A.F.Isabert, Recueil general des anciennes lois francaises depuis l’an 420 jusqu’a la Revolution de 1789, T. XXIV, 1826 Paris: Belin-Leprieur,  pp. 364-378; A.P.Merlin, Repertoire uniniversel et raisonne de jurisprudence, T.III, 5eme ed., Garnery et J.P. Roret, 1827 Paris, p. 714; P.Olagnier, Le droit d’auter-Tome premier: Les principes-Le droit ancient, 1934 Paris: LGDJ, p. 137.
21.P.Mouron, La liberte de creation artistique au sens de la loi du 7 juillet 2016, RDLF 2017, cron. n⁰30.
25.W.Cole Durham, JR.& Brett G. Schraffs, Law and Religion: National, International, and Comparative Perspective, 2010 Wolters Kluwer, pp. 183-184.
26.International Conference on Conflicts Between Fundamental Rights (2006 : Ghent, Belgium), Conflicts between Fundamental Rights 33, ed. Eva Brems, 2008 Intersentia , 191.
27.J. Rawls, Political Liberalism, 1993 Columbia University Press, p. 295.
29.International Conference on Conflicts Between Fundamental Rights (2006 : Ghent, Belgium), Conflicts between Fundamental Rights, surpra n.5, p. 84.
30.Id., p. 85.
31.J. H. Ely, Democracy and Distrust: A Theory of Judicial Review, 1986 Harvard University Press.
32.International Conference on Conflicts Between Fundamental Rights (2006 : Ghent, Belgium), Conflicts between Fundamental Rights, surpra n.5, p. 92.
33.Article 28 “Il est interdit, à l'avenir, d'élever ou d'apposer aucun signe ou emblème religieux sur les monuments publics ou en quelque emplacement public que ce soit, à l'exception des édifices servant au culte, des terrains de sépulture dans les cimetières, des monuments funéraires, ainsi que des musées ou expositions».
35.Fr. Belleflamme, P.-O. de Broux and M. El Berhoumi, Les personnes morales de droit privé et de droit public comme titulaires de droits fondamentaux in S. Van Droohgenbroeck  (dir.), Le droit international et européen des droits de l’homme devant le juge national, coll. Les grands arrêts de la jurisprudence belge, 2014 Larcier, pp. 63-72; P. Wachsmann, «Personnes publiques et droits fondamentaux», La personnalité publique, 2007 Paris :Litec, , pp. 145-166 (Travaux de l’Association Française pour la recherche en Droit Adminis-tratif – 1) ; X. Dupre de Boulois, «Personnes publiques, droits fondamentaux et Convention européenne des droits de l’homme», 2004 R.D.P., no2, pp. 547-564.
36.R. Drago, «Droits fondamentaux et personnes publiques», 1998 AJDA., numéro spécial, p. 130.
37.E. Picard, «La liberté contractuelle des personnes publiques constitue-t-elle un droit fondamental ?», 1998 AJDA, p. 661.
38.G. Puppinck, The case of Lautsi v. Italy: a synthesis, 2012 BYU Law Review, Vol. 3, p. 16



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