Article premier. - La République assure la liberté de conscience. Elle garantit le libre exercice des cultes sous les seules restrictions édictées ci-après dans l'intérêt de l'ordre public.
Art. 2.- La République ne reconnaît, ne salarie ni ne subventionne aucun culte. En conséquence, à partir du 1er janvier qui suivra la promulgation de la présente loi, seront supprimées des budgets de l'État, des départements et des communes, toutes dépenses relatives à l'exercice des cultes. Pourront toutefois être inscrites auxdits budgets les dépenses relatives à des services d'aumônerie et destinées à assurer le libre exercice des cultes dans les établissements publics tels que lycées, collèges, écoles, hospices, asiles et prisons. Les établissements publics du culte sont supprimés, sous réserve des dispositions énoncées à l'article 3.
The first sentence of article 2 can be translated into English as: “The Republic does not recognize, pay or subsidize any religion. “. The law itself goes on for several pages to outline the method of establishing a new separation for a country that had not had one before. France had built many churches at public expense, and had many church individuals on public salaries. The separation was a process in France, not a simple establishing of principal like it was in the USA. Some of the articles (like article 11 shown below) are obviously unimportant today, but were probably of great importance when the law was passed.
French: "Les ministres des cultes qui, lors de la promulgation de la présente loi, seront âgés de plus de soixante ans révolus et qui auront, pendant trente ans au moins, rempli des fonctions ecclésiastiques rémunérées par l'État, recevront une pension annuelle et viagère égale aux trois quarts de leur traitement."
English: "The ministers of religion who, during the enactment of this Act, be aged over sixty years of age and who have for thirty years at least, full of ecclesiastical duties paid by the State, will receive an annual pension and annuity equal to three-quarters of their treatment."
If anyone was covered by article 11 they would be over 165 years old today.
There were opponents to the law, and some demonstrations. The Roman Catholic church was quite unhappy with the law, but have seen it as worthwhile, even defendable, in recent years. The Roman Catholic church was so upset by the law that Pope Pius X issued an encyclical titled “Vehementer Nos” where they stated in overflowing prose the Holy See’s displeasure with the law. Here are a couple excerpts from an English translation of the Vehementer Nos:
“Our soul is full of sorrowful solicitude and Our heart overflows with grief, when Our thoughts dwell upon you. How, indeed, could it be otherwise, immediately after the promulgation of that law which, by sundering violently the old ties that linked your nation with the Apostolic See, creates for the Catholic Church in France a situation unworthy of her and ever to be lamented? That is, beyond question, an event of the gravest import, and one that must be deplored by all the right-minded, for it is as disastrous to society as it is to religion.”
“That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order.”