Paris: Court allows municipal support of mosque

A decision by the administrative court of appeals in Versailles clarifies the conditions in which municipalities can support the construction of places of worship and in particular mosques.

In the decision, made public Wednesday August 6th, the judges think that the council of the Paris suburb of Montreuil (Seine-Saint-Denis) did not break the law of separation of Church and State in providing land for a symbolic price to the Muslim association in order to build a mosque.  The administrative court therefore annulled the decision of the administrative tribunal of Cergy-Pontoise last year, which had invalidated the municipal decision, causing concern in the Muslim community.

Several appeals have been filed by the extreme right last year, notably in Montreuil and in Marseilles, in order to cancel the lease contracts granting land to the associations for a symbolic price.  In this two cases, the administrative tribunals decide to annul the municipal decisions since the low rents amounted to a form of subsidy which is prohibited by law.  The municipalities therefore had to vote on significantly higher rents.

In its decision on the case of the Montreuil mosque, the administrative court of appeals said that the annual fee of one symbolic euro can't be considered, in these circumstances, as a subsidy in disguise.  The judges emphasized that the emphyteutic lease, signed with the association for 99 years, says that the council will become the owner of the property at the end of this period.

They say that the association has undertaken to construct the mosque, open to the public, at the cost of 1.5 million euros, and then to maintain it.

The administrative court says that according to the law of December 9th 1905 on the separation of Church and State, the Republic doesn't 'recognize, employs nor subsidizes any religion'.  But it insists on the fact that the constitutional principal of laicite, which implies neutrality of the State and local authorities.. and equal treatment of different religions, does not, by itself, prevent it from granting in the general interest.. certain support to the activities and facilities of religions.

The former mayor of Montreuil, Jean-Pierre Brard, who had originated the project, said that it's very good news, since it goes back to the law valid since the 1930s and which had benefited more than 400 churches.

Source: Le Monde (French)

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