In the country where I live (Switzerland), the state is not strictly secular, and is supporting some churches. The vast majority of the population is not religious anymore (regardless of whether or not they're believers), and only a small fraction of people attend (and thus make donations) to their church regularly. I do not know the details of their financing but I'm pretty confident the Churches depend largely on state subventions and would have to drastically reduce their offers and activities if the state's financial support were to disappear.

In France however, the world's first country to adopt secularism in 1789, and thus the direct inspiration for many other secular states, the system works as follows : The state does not recognize nor support any religious organisation.

I can imagine that the majority church (in this case, Roman Catholics) still have barely enough believers to survive uniquely based on donations, but how do minority churches, such as Protestants, survive ? Do believers have to give really huge donations in order to not see their Church collapse ?

  • 2
    You might want to compare France with another country that does not provide support for churches, America.
    – Readin
    Nov 13, 2016 at 20:49
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    @Bregalad - because you (or someone) pays for everything. TANSTAAFL.
    – user4012
    Nov 13, 2016 at 22:45
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    @Bregalad just to be clear, churchgoers don't 'pay' to attend church. Anyone can attend for free. Donations are strictly voluntary. You can attend for as long as you want and never give anything. Perhaps you should try going to a local church and asking some of the attendees why they choose to donate?
    – Readin
    Nov 14, 2016 at 12:47
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    It is worth commenting that donations to the Church seem to be 66% tax deductible (www.generosityinaction.org/TaxInfoCREST.pdf) which in itself can be viewed as a form of support from the state (including non-believers money). Also, a) the public will be more aware that the church is not publicly funded so likely more inclined and used to donate and b) the church will most probably spend less (I see lots of evangelical churches that just happen to be a rented commercial space). Also, there are the options of foreign donations from churches in more "generous" countries.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 14, 2016 at 13:39
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    Here is a graph which show atheism by country, you can check if the fact they is secularism for them correpsond to this : quora.com/Im-an-atheist-Am-I-a-minority. USA is a secular state, yet they have way less atheist. However religion is way more active in USA than in France.
    – Walfrat
    Nov 15, 2016 at 9:50

1 Answer 1


This is only a partial answer, and I will try to edit it later on.

First, the effective secularism in France is the 1905 law, not 1789.

Second, the state does support the cults, more or less indirectly :

  • In 1907, a law was passed that gave control of religious buildings to the state : since then, it is local governments (cities mostly), that take care of the buildings built before 1907. The churches and mosques etc. built after that date belong to the cults.
  • In some parts of the country (Alsace, Moselle and some overseas territory), the 1905 law doesn't apply and the cults are financed by the local governments.
  • 66% of the donations can be taken out of taxes, with a limit. This can help a lot of people to give money.
  • Other exceptions apply, that allow the funding of cults.

For example, for the jewish community :

le financement des synagogues est essentiellement privé et assumé par la communauté des fidèles elle-même

The funding for synagogues is essentially private and originate from the believers' community itself

Another fact is that the cults are owners of land in some cases, and that financial products help fund them.

I must admit that I am not myself convinced of what I just found in this quick research, since it was said that for the most part, the cults aren't in financial trouble, but that donations are a limited way of funding… I guess the situation isn't really simple.

Sources :

If you read french, here is a webpage of the french senate describing a report on this issue

  • 1
    That seems right to me. (I'm French). Cults are poor since the 1905 law. For the most part, Catholic churches in France are owned and maintained by the states, so Catholic only have to pay priests -- and they are not well-paid, and their numbers is diminishing. They do not have much land because everything was confiscated by the states in 1905. (voted+1)
    – Joël
    Nov 16, 2016 at 0:57
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    fyi: In English, "cult" has negative connotations
    – user4012
    Nov 27, 2016 at 0:24

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