Civil disobedience falls under freedom of expression and the repertoire of legitimate actions of associations

On September 13, the prefect of Vienne summoned by mail the city and the metropolis of Poitiers to withdraw their subsidies intended to support a “village of alternatives” organized by the association Alternatiba Poitiers. For which motive ? Within this event, training in non-violent civil disobedience would be “incompatible with the republican contract of engagement” introduced by the law of August 24, 2021 “consolidating respect for the principles of the Republic”, known as the “separatism law”. . Since January 1, 2022, all associations wishing to benefit from financial or material support from a public authority, or have an authorization allowing them to act according to their object (popular education, defense of the environment, fight against corruption…) must therefore sign this contract which obliges them and restricts their freedom of action.

In a climate of Islamophobia, this law has contributed to the establishment of a legal and administrative arsenal aimed primarily at Muslim people (or perceived as such), as well as organizations and activists defending their rights and their freedoms, in particular by facilitating the dissolution of associations. Several associations and groups, but also a media, have since been targeted by the Minister of the Interior who is determined to use and abuse this new law. It took referral to the Council of State to challenge these abusive dissolutions, which nonetheless remain serious attacks on the freedoms of association of expression, assembly and demonstration.

A year after the adoption of this “separatism law”, the Prefect of Vienne urged the town hall and the metropolis of Poitiers that one of its provisions be used against a local group of Alternatiba, a citizen movement for the climate and social justice which has been warning since 2013 about climate change, while promoting concrete solutions and alternatives. Providing training on non-violent civil disobedience would now amount, according to the prefect Girier, to leaving the republican field, and would justify depriving an association of general interest of its means. Behind the initiative of the prefect of Vienne, it is also the autonomy of local authorities to decide freely on the allocation of funding to the associative world which is at stake.

Civil disobedience, however, is far from constituting contempt for the Republic. On the contrary, many essential advances would not have taken place without it: disobeying is the strike before the right to strike, clandestine abortions before the Veil law… It is a tool used by a large part of the movements which have brought major societal advances, in France and elsewhere. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly affirmed that civil disobedience in a field of public interest constitutes one of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of expression.

Now, in the face of undeniable climate peril and the inadequacy of the reaction of public authorities, civil disobedience is, among others, a largely justified tool, as evidenced by numerous court decisions. Throughout France, organizations for social and environmental justice are highlighting the many initiatives of communities, businesses, associations, citizens who are giving themselves the means to act to reduce their gas emissions to greenhouse effect and fight against inequalities. We would expect the same from the State, which nevertheless does not respect the Paris Agreement and has been condemned twice for its climate inaction, thus placing itself “outside the law”.

the separatism, like many terms used in the Republican contract of engagement (“obligation to act in a spirit of good citizenship”), are vague concepts that are too easy to use for political ends, as the prefect Jean-Marie Girier, also a former campaign manager for President Macron and a member of the leadership of the En Marche party. Its use against an association that acts in the general interest should be an opportunity to collectively become aware of the dangerousness of the laws created to unfairly discriminate against a part of the population, and to understand that they extend then to address any form of protest. Many voices from the associative world were raised to denounce this law, its immediate danger and its probable excesses: alas, they were not listened to, and these excesses have already begun! Far from protecting the Republic, the initiative of the prefect of Vienne weakens freedom of association and impoverishes democracy. We therefore repeat it: the separatism law and its republican contract of engagement must be repealed.

We affirm our support for organizations and activists fighting against racism and all forms of discrimination, who are the first victims of these authoritarian excesses. We affirm our support for organizations and activists who fight against climate change and for social justice, and who practice civil disobedience to denounce the failings of the State.

First Signatories

Nonviolent Action COP21

ACORT (Citizens Assembly of Natives of Turkey)

Citizen Alliance


Alternatiba Poitiers

Friends of the Earth France



ANIS Association




CANVA Building and Alerting through Active Non-Violence


Christians United for the Earth

Social Christianity

Cliss XXI

Catalyst Collective

Collective of Citizen Associations

Monsanto fight

Committee for the respect of freedoms and human rights in Tunisia (CRLDHT)

L’Arche Community, Non-violence and Spirituality

National Coordination Not Without Us

Right to Housing


Extinction Rebellion Poitiers

Federation of Tunisian Citizens of Both Shores (FTCR)

National Federation of Street Arts

Women Equality


France Nature Environment


Global Chance

Greenpeace France

La Cimade


The Copernic Foundation

Squaring the Net

The high school voice


Family Planning


Val-d’Oise Education League



Hummingbird Movement

Movement against racism and for friendship between peoples

MRES Hauts de France

Our Business to All

People and Culture




Citizen science


Syndicate of the Judiciary

Syndicate of Lawyers of France

All migrants

Solidarity trade union

United for the climate and biodiversity

Public Vox

Youth For Climate Paris

Zero Waste France


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