Religious activities generally need some infrastructure to be conducted. For this reason, there generally exist religion-supporting organizations, which are some form of organization that manage:
- the upkeep of places of worship, such as mosques, churches, synagogues, chapels and other buildings or meeting places.
- the payment of salaries to religious leaders, such as Roman Catholic priests, Hindu priests, Christian ministers, imams and rabbis.
In addition, such organizations usually have other responsibilities, such as: the formation, nomination or appointment of religious leaders, the establishment of a corpus of doctrine, the disciplining of leaders and followers with respect to religious law, the determination of qualification for membership, etc.
In some countries, the government is prohibited by law from establishing or supporting religions by separation of church and state, though there may be exceptions to such rules. Religions are thus necessarily supported by private organizations, generally funded by those who attend their services.
The French Republic is constitutionally laïque (roughly, secular). It is prohibited by a 1905 statute to salary, subsidize or recognize any religion; for historical reasons, this statute however does not apply to the Alsace-Moselle area (where four religions are state-subsidized under the local law), to French Guiana (Catholic priests are employed by the local government, although this situation is likely to change) and to military chaplains (as of 2005[update], there are indications that the statute of religious services to the military will be changed).
Religious organizations are not required to register, but may if they wish to apply for tax-exempt status or to gain official recognition. The French government defines two categories under which religious groups may register: associations cultuelles (associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes) and associations culturelles (cultural associations, which are not exempt from all taxes). Associations in these two categories are subject to certain management and financial disclosure requirements. An association of worship may organize only religious activities, defined as liturgical services and practices. A cultural association may engage in profit-making activity. Although a cultural association is not exempt from taxes, it may receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations, such as schools. Religious groups normally register under both of these categories; the Mormons, for example, runs strictly religious activities through its association of worship and operates a school under its cultural association.
Under the 1905 statute, religious groups must apply with the local prefecture to be recognized as an association of worship and receive tax-exempt status. The prefecture reviews the submitted documentation regarding the association's purpose for existence. To qualify, the group's purpose must be solely the practice of some form of religious ritual. Printing publications, employing a board president, or running a school may disqualify a group from receiving tax-exempt status. A common method is to run such activities in another financially separate association ("cultural association" or other similar denomination).
According to the 1905 law, associations of worship are not taxed on the donations that they receive. However, the prefecture may decide to review a group's status if the association receives a large donation or legacy that comes to the attention of the tax authorities. If the prefecture determines that the association is not in fact in conformity with the 1905 law, its status may be changed, and it may be required to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on present and past donations.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 109 of 1,138 Protestant associations, 15 of 147 Jewish associations, and approximately 30 of 1,050 Muslim associations have tax-free status. Approximately 100 Catholic associations are tax-exempt; a representative of the Ministry of Interior reports that the number of non-tax-exempt Catholic associations is too numerous to estimate accurately. More than 50 associations of the Jehovah's Witnesses have tax-free status.