1. Privileges of the churches

Law and church status

State law shall not give preference to any religious community over other organizations. Neither shall religious groups be allowed to bind others to their values with the help of state laws.

What IBKA demands:

Special conditions in Germany:

The German judiciary displays ecclesiastical-clerical influences. The Concordat of the German Reich from 1933 and the state concordats (Länderkonkordate) define the relationship between state and church in Germany. They are contradictory to the principle of the separation of church and state. As rehards the Catholic sphere, areas they were entered into on the basis of canon law, the Corpus Iuris Canonici (CIC). Quite evidently, some court judgements were made according to ancient ecclesiastical law. This includes judgements in connection with the "blasphemy clause" (Section 166, German Penal Code), the abortion clause (Section 218, German Penal Code), judgements regarding school prayer and church tax as well as judgements of industrial tribunals under the so-called Right of Tendency clause [Tendenzschutzparagraph; Tendenzschutz means that in media, and in other companies, which besides their economic interests (primarily) pursue intellectual or philosophical objectives (= Tendenz), the rights of the works councils are restricted. The lawmaker justifies this restriction with the supposedly necessary protection of the civil rights and liberties (i.e. freedom of the press) of those, who pursue the intellectual and philosophical objectives of the company; the translator].

Prevailing public jurisprudence undermines the principle of separation of state and church by referring to legal sources, particularly the constitutions of the Länder (Land / plural: Länder: any of the federal states of Germany) and ecclesiastical treaties (concordats), that are subordinate to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany. "Federal law shall take precedence over Land law" is stated in Article 31 of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG). Crucifixes in courts indicate further that the constitutional provision of the separation of state and church is far from complete within the judiciary.

Incompatible with the provision of philosophical-religious neutrality of the state is the privilege that is granted to full-time clergymen and students of theology: Unlike other citizens, they can be exempt or deferred from military service or the alternative community service.

An important privilege of the churches and other religious and philosophical communities in Germany is defined in the German Constitution: They can be or become a "corporation under public law" (Article 137 of the Weimar Constitution of the German Reich (Weimarer Reichsverfassung) from 1919, which, according to Article 140 GG, forms part of the German Constitution).

This privilege is a relic from the times of the state church, when the church was covered by public law and was granted privileges from, but at the same time dominated by, the state. This status of a public-law body is contradictory to the state's obligation of religious and philosophical neutrality. In addition, these privileged religious organizations and philosophical communities do not meet one single defining characteristic required by a corporation under public law.

In Germany, the status of a "corporation under public law" results in a close cohesion between state and church. It influences the regulations of the beginning and the termination of church membership. These regulations appear to be explicitly aimed at securing the churches a large number of members. In Germany one becomes a member of the church by being christened, usually as a baby, without one's consent. Leaving the church, on the other hand, requires quite a lot of energy: In most German states this is done through a personal declaration at the local court or registry office. Employees will then have to have their wage tax card adjusted accordingly, for which purpose they have to call on the issuing authority.

Christians (by certificate of baptism) whose church membership has nothing to do with their convictions whatsoever are still listed in public certificates and statistics and are being used by the churches as the basis for their status as the "strongest socially relevant group" and their claims for public subsidies and opportunities of influence.

Not least by paying their church taxes, these "church members by certificate of baptism" play an important role in the funding of the churches. Even those are expected to pay who, as minors, were "christened into the church" without giving their consent, based only on an agreement between their parents and the church. Putting an end to this imposed church membership is only possible by officially leaving the church.

During the last few years, leaving the church has been made even more difficult in some Länder: The person leaving is charged a fee (in 2001, the leader was Baden-Württemberg charging 50 euros). In IBKA's opinion, this fee is a violation of the German Basic Law. Pursuant to the German law on non-profit associations (Vereinsrecht) alone, non-profit associations are not permitted to charge a leaving fee, because this would constitute an "inadmissible impediment to withdrawal". What applies to a non-profit association should certainly apply to a religious community: after all, the right to leave a religious community is part of the human right of religious freedom1. The status of "public law corporation" has an effect on the collection of church tax: Those religious organizations who are corporations under public law have the right to levy taxes based on the civil lists of tax assessments in accordance with the provisions of the law of the Länder." (Article 137 paragraph 6 of the Weimar Constitution). Based on this provision, a practice has developed in Germany that carries the involvement of state and churches even further than as defined by this provision:

The state has taken on the responsibility of collecting the membership contributions on behalf of the two main Christian churches in the form of the so-called church tax - in 1992, this amounted to an equivalent of approx. 8 billion euros! The great financial power of the churches in Germany stems primarily from the above. As far as salaried employees are concerned, employers are obliged to carry out accounting with respect to the collection of the church tax free of charge. The constitutional principle that nobody has to reveal his or her philosophical views is being disregarded in favour of the collection of church tax. Employers find out their employees' confession and public authorities get information on the religious profession of the citizens administered by them.

By collecting church taxes the state gets involved in the dubious methods of financing the churches. Thus, a number of Länder has introduced a law about a "special Kirchgeld (church contribution) for married couples of different creeds": If only one of the married couple is a member of a church and the church member earns considerably less than the non-member, they have to pay a Kirchgeld according to the income of the main earner - this being the income of somebody who is not a member of the church at all.

What IBKA demands for Germany:

The funding of the churches by the German state

Special circumstances in Germany:

In Germany, the state is not only involved in the financing of the churches by collecting the church tax. The churches also receive additional income and benefits from the government budget, i. e. out of the pockets of all taxpayers, including the non-religious and members of religious minorities.

This is based on the alleged obligation to compensate the churches for lost assets through the so-called secularization. These payments take the form of state pensions paid to the churches out of taxes from both Christian and non-Christian citizens in Germany. What has not been taken into account so far is the fact that before "secularization" (1803) the churches appropriated themselves assets in the order of billions (according to today's assessment) by illegal or legally questionable means (e.g. confiscating the assets of "witches" and victims of the inquisition, forging certificates of possession, legacy hunting by taking advantage of people's fear of the purgatory). For this reason alone, those state subsidies based on "secularization" shall be withdrawn without replacement. The Christian churches, on the other hand, have hardly ever compensated their victims. For no other group, let alone individuals, does the state recognize claims for compensation after such long periods of time. In view of payments from public funds for almost two centuries any claims which might have existed were paid for a long time ago.

In addition the churches are granted subsidies from public funds (e.g. contributions to building cost from the Federal government, the Länder and local authorities) in the order of billions as well as further millions through blanket benefits from the Länder, including even the funding of church events (such as church congresses, ecumenical celebrations, etc.). Often, these benefits are dynamically adjusted from one year to the next, occasionally even unnoticed by the parliamentary controlling bodies. The question why - despite a constitutional provision for the discontinuance of state benefits based on ancient titles - the Basic Law of a state claiming philosophical-religious neutrality should permit the establishment of state benefits also remains unclear.

Equally incompatible with the philosophical-religious neutrality of the state are its contributions towards the funding of religious instruction - be it the funding of Theological Faculties or the funding of religious education in state schools (2. Youth and education).

Further unjustified financial contributions by the state are justified by Article 141 of the Weimar Constitution of the German Reich from 1919 which, according to Article 140 GG, forms part of the German Basic Law: To the extent that a need exists for religious services and pastoral work in the army, in hospitals, in prisons, or in other public institutions, religious societies shall be permitted to provide them, but without compulsion of any kind.

The state-organized and state-funded pastoral care in the army and prisons through clergymen with permanent civil-servant status, however, goes far beyond the above "permission". Thus, a responsibility of the church was turned into a responsibility of the state, contrary to the prohibition of any institutional link between state and church.

An alliance of church and military in Germany is no less evident than throughout the entire history of the church.

Ever since the Reichskonkordat (concordat between church and the German Reich), which was entered into by the Hitler government in 1933 and continues to be legally valid in Germany, there has been state-organized pastoral care for the military services: The churches provide the clergymen who, just like with the entire personnel of the military church administration, are paid for by the state. As civil servants of the Federal Republic of Germany, the clergymen are subordinate to military leadership.

They have to teach the so-called Lebenskundlicher Unterricht (lessons on the theory of life) which is part of the troops' regular service programme. With regard to the Protestant church in Germany, the Treaty on Pastoral Care for Military Personnel which came into force in 1957 provides for a similar regulation. This is an institutional violation of the constitutional provision for the separation of state and religion.

What IBKA demands for Germany:


Kirchenaustrittsgebühren (fees for leaving the church): How some Länder hinder secession from church, available on the Web from www.ibka.org/artikel/ag00/gebuehr.html