France, laïcité, religious statues and public places

In 2011, at the instigation of its Mayor, Gaston Lacroix, the commune of Publier, Haute-Savoie, unveiled a statue of Notre Dame du Léman in a municipal park. The statue had been erected without any prior debate in the municipal council and the costs of the exercise, some €24,000, had been funded from the municipal budget.

The Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Eglises et de l’Etat declares in Article 28 that:

“It is forbidden, in the future, to erect or affix any religious sign or emblem on public monuments or in any public place whatsoever, with the exception of buildings used for worship, burial grounds in cemeteries, funerary monuments, as well as museums or exhibitions.” [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].

The Fédération de Haute Savoie de la Libre Pensée challenged the decision on the grounds that it breached Article 28 and the principle of laïcité; and on 30 January 2015, the Chief Clerk of the tribunal administratif de Grenoble wrote to the council with a copy of the tribunal’s judgment ordering the municipality to remove the statue from the park.

Nothing happened, and Le Monde now reports that In a further judgment of 24 November,  the tribunal has again ordered the Mayor to “remove from the communal public domain the statue of the Virgin Mary bearing the inscription Notre Dame du Léman watches over your children“. The commune has three months in which to comply with the judgment, under threat of a daily fine for non-compliance of €100.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "France, laïcité, religious statues and public places" in Law & Religion UK, 6 December 2016,

2 thoughts on “France, laïcité, religious statues and public places

  1. It is – I believe – a similar situation in the USA. It is not unique to France.
    It is outrageous that a mayor of a local council wastes public funds in this way.
    Instead of possibly fining the local authority €100 per day, the tribunal should instead have imposed the fine on the mayor, who has acted unlawfully – not the local community.
    Gaston Lacroix should pay the fine and be held personally responsible for re-paying the local council the €24,000 of public money he squandered on his personal vanity project.

  2. Mayor Gaston has a strangely appropriate name. A secularist here in Wales successfully objected to a cross installed in a hospital garden of reflection. The garden was funded by a non-religious charity. The cross was removed without resort to law. Possibly just as well since we do not have the benefit of the principle of laïcité.

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