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Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental in a democracy. What limitations to freedom of speech are there in France? Is holocaust denial an example? can one insult prophets?

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    @Bregalad It is certainly a restriction on freedom of speech. You may consider it a justified restriction, but there is no sense in which "you may not express this idea" is not a limit on freedom of speech. If you banned lying in general, that is also a limit on freedom of speech.
    – cpast
    Commented May 29, 2016 at 21:07
  • @Bregalad that's definitely a limit on freedom of speech, an idea is banned from public expression, it doesn't get any clearer cut than that. Why does such a law even exist? Isn't it a historical fact that can defended in it's own right? Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


The limitations to freedom of speech in France are very similar to most western countries when it comes to the following (all forbidden) themes:

  • incitation to racial hatred and violence

  • denial of some historically established genocides like the holocaust or the armenian genocide.

  • pedophilia

  • injure : more or less insult not supported by any evidence

  • copyright violation

  • fake advertisement

...and probably others that I don't know of. Some people regularly get fines or jail times for racial hate speech or holocaust denial. In many aspects, the laws against racial insults and hatred, even racism based on religion, are actually harsher than in most western countries. Using the very word race in public is reprehensible. Besides, ethnic and religious statistics are forbidden. No one knows how many catholics/atheists/muslims/jews/... there are in France, as well as black/white/asian/arabic/indian/... people. However, a religion can be insulted at will. Here is why.

The first article of the constitution starts as follows : "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." This translates as "France is an undividable, laïque, democratic and social republic. It ensures equality of all its citizens before the law, without any regard to origins, race, or religion. It respects every belief. "

What foreigners don't get about this is the term laïque, which cannot really be translated (secular does not really have the right tone).

The separation of church and state law from 1905 defines the term laïque says "la République ne reconnaît, ne salarie, ni ne subventionne aucun culte." This can be translated as "the republic does not recognise or finance any religion/cult". In other terms, according to the French law, no religion EXISTS, they are completely ignored.

This means that you can insult any religion or any prophet as much as you want. If you want a good example, Charlie Hebdo's covers (mostly about catholicism) are quite provocative, and yet not condemned by law (some could have been but not on the basis of insult to religion, which does not exists at all). Religious french people just have to not feel insulted whenever their religion is insulted. Just like when someone curses the wind.

Some protection they have by law are:

  • Insulting the people who follow a religion is condemned as racial hate speech.

  • Insulting anybody because of his/her religion is condemned as racist insult

  • Vandalising any worship place is condemned as any vandalisation.

  • ...

I will add that the constitution articles quoted in the other answer (10 and 11) are pretty clear : freedom of religion is respected WITHIN the law. This is based on the reciprocity principle : your freedom stops where the one of others begin.

Misunderstandings with anglo-saxons (and more generally foreigner) observers occurs when they think they understand everything there is to know about France by picturing the same system, laws and political culture than they have except for certain points. It is not.

Side remark : "Charlie Hebdo" comes from a small sub-culture of France that I did not encounter anywhere else. But this is another topic.

  • how "freedom of religion is respected within the law" while " no religion EXISTS"?
    – user 1
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 8:10
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    Freedom of thought includes freedom of religion, but religions are ignored. There are no special extra freedoms when your thoughs are religious Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 10:37
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    "The reciprocity principle : your freedom stops where the one of others begin." <- same for most european countries i've known, this should be in Bold and be the answer's title.
    – CptEric
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 11:06
  • Is denial of the Armenian genocide banned in France?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 20:40
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    "according to the French law, no religion EXISTS" is not completely true. Some laws are about religious matters, such as the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 14:57

Article 10 of the french Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen in 1789 (still applied):

Art. 10. -

Nul ne doit être inquiété pour ses opinions, même religieuses, pourvu que leur manifestation ne trouble pas l'ordre public établi par la Loi.

Art. 11. -

La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus précieux de l'Homme : tout Citoyen peut donc parler, écrire, imprimer librement, sauf à répondre de l'abus de cette liberté dans les cas déterminés par la Loi.

which can be translated to : Nobody should fear for his opinions, including religious ones, provided that their expression doesn't endanger the public order. An interesting part of the 11th article is the "abuse of that freedom" part.

I don't know what stands for denial. @talha-irfan already started on Charlie Hebdo.

One famous exception to freedom of speech in France is inciting violence and hatred.

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    > One famous exception to freedom of speech in France is inciting violence and hatred. or wearing burqa.
    – dannyf
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 10:42
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    @dannyf It's not about the burqa or niqab or any other religious sign, it is about covering your face. That means you can't put on a ski mask and go in the street. Indeed, it was controversial, but approved by the ECHR.
    – SdaliM
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 12:05

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