In addition to the centuries-old presence of the Catholic church, different religious groups are installed on French soil today. They belong to the various branches of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. Catholicism remains the majority religion, despite a significant decrease of the number of its members in recent decades. 


France is a historically and traditionally Catholic country. However, legally speaking, the institutional influence of the Catholic Church was put to an end by the 1789 Revolution, and France has a separatist type of relation between state and religious groups since the Act 9 December 1905 of separation of Church and State. 


In accordance with the principle of separation, and the related principles of equality and neutrality of public authorities with regard to religious groups, no religious group may be singled out on the basis of its social, numerical or historical importance. As a result, all religious groups can be organized according to the unique legal status designed for them by the 1905 Act, which amounts to a specific type of association: the religious association (association cultuelle). Such an association is above all characterized by its purpose, which must be exclusively religious, namely relating to worship only


Regarding the issue of religious minorities in France, the most important challenge lies in the  regulation of a social situation of religious plurality under the aegis of religious freedom, which should lead public authorities to take into account the de facto disparities that exist between religious groups.


Two main elements mark the legal framework of religious issues and therefore of religious minorities. The first one relates to history, and more particularly to the influence of Catholicism, upon how the legal framework for religious groups and practices has been designed. This is the case of the notion of worship determined by the pattern of   the Catholic religion or the notion of religious leader, which draws largely on the model of the Catholic priest. However, these approaches are not fully suitable for all religious groups. The second element to be taken into account in explaining the legal situation of religious minorities in France is the political and symbolic importance of secularism as a synonym for neutrality and its legal consequences. For example, financial neutrality, which prohibits the public funding of religion, leads to difficulties for recently established religious groups in financing the construction of places of worship. Moreover, neutrality is also reflected in a tendency to extend bans or restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols, which particularly affects Muslims, who form the second largest religious group in terms of the number of members. This contributes to the positioning of Muslim communities at the center of the public debate on religious minorities in France.

    Anne Fornerod




General information on minority issues (including some references to religious ones) can be found at the page devoted to France in Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples

The text of the main legislative acts concerning freedom of religion or belief can be found at

Documents and reports on religious freedom, public worship and religious activities are available (in French) on the Ministry of the Interior’s official webpage, at 

See also and

For an analysis of the State-religion legal system see 

F. Messner, P. H. Prélot, J.  M. Woehrling (Eds.), Traité de droit français des religions, Paris: Litec, 2013.

Francis Messner, France, in G. Robbers, & C. W. Durham (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Law and Religion, Leiden: Brill, 2015 (the table of contents is available at

An overview of the main religious minorities in France is provided in

A. L. Zwilling (Ed.), Les minorités religieuses en France. Panorama de la diversité contemporaine, Paris: Bayard, 2019.



Data source: Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds., World Religion Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed August 2021)
Religion Pop 2020 RM Pct% 2020 Total Pop.
Christin Ortodox 770.000 1.18%  
Jehovah's Witnesses 136.419 0.21%  
Jews 442.032 0.68%  
Muslims 5.693.788 8.72%  
Protestants 950.000 1.46%