You are obliged to pay German church tax when…
Normally German tax payers are only obliged to pay a church tax when they are declared members of mainly either the Catholic (~24 Mio. members) or the Protestant church (~23 Mio. members) here in Germany* (go to the end of this article for more details).
As a German you become a member of those churches first by being baptized and later on state your membership by a ceremony either called confirmation (Protestants) or Firmung (Catholics). So if your parents decide not to get you baptized, you are not automatically a member of any church and will not be obliged to pay church tax.
You can decide to get baptized at any time in your life. A friend’s 9 year old son recently wanted to get baptized as he was wondering what (confession) he actually was („Mama, was bin ich eigentlich?“). Quite to the surprise of his pretty atheist parents. He got baptized and is now awaiting his communion (Catholic).
EXPATS BE MINDFUL WHEN REGISTERING
As a non-German it is also very easy to become a member of our churches. Very often I read complaints about astonished expats who get their first income statement and find that they have been charged a 1% church tax, although they haven’t (consciously) joined any church yet. Because the tradition to deduct such a tax automatically is a pretty rare occurrence and unknown to most inhabitants of this planet, you might not think of anything like getting taxed for your believe when filling out the forms necessary to register at the Bürgeramt in your local Rathaus. There you will have to fill out a form on which you declare your confession. It simply says: „Religion (nur ev., rk. oder ak.)“.
WHEN IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE
If you naively write your confession into this field, you declare your membership to one of these churches and will be charged a church tax of approx. 1% of your income (more precisely: 9% of your income tax). If you don’t have any income, you don’t pay any such tax. If you have by mistake filled in your confession but rather prefer to decide on your own whether or how much you’d like to donate to your church, you will have to exit the church again by going to your local Standesamt. Depending on where you reside in Germany, you might have to pay a fee. But be aware that you will not be a legal member of that church anymore after your exit. In 2012 the two big churches have raised approximately 10,3 Billion Euros in church taxes which makes for up to 80% of their income.
HALF A BILLION BESIDES (!) GERMAN CHURCH TAX
But now to the 442 Million from the beginning. Everyone (!) paying taxes in Germany (and that’s everyone who even buys a bottle of milk) is paying to the church due to some agreements between the Catholic church and the German government from 1803. The argumentation is such that the government of that time has expropriated the church of many goods and a lot of real-estate and therefore is now compensating the church for this act. Based upon a treaty between the two grand churches and the Bavarian government of 1924, there’s even a paragraph in our actual constitution ensuring that this deal is still valid.
As you can imagine, not everyone is happy about this deal from back then as times have changed significantly and as there are many different believe systems and organisations. By the way, this money is not for any social work of the churches, like e.g. hospitals, Kindergärten or old people’s homes (which by the way are also almost completely funded by the government and not by the churches but that’s stuff for another article).
It’s exclusively for the wages of Bishops (which can sum up to 8.000 EUR or even 11.000 EUR per month) including „company“-car (critics say it’s not too seldom a Mercedes, although it would be nice to have some statistics here) and indirectly their pension fund, unemployment insurance and 50% of their health insurance.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT SOMETHING YOU POSSIBLY DETEST?
Now imagine that part of any purchase you make or a small percentage of your income (in the end we are talking about approximately 10 EUR per working inhabitant per year) goes to an organisation that you are not really fond of, maybe a pro-life organisation or an abortion-clinic or a pro-gay or anti-gay movement, just to name a few pretty contrastive examples. It’s one thing that the government spends taxes on projects that you might not necessarily agree to, that’s called democracy (most likely this same problem also occurs in a kingdom or dictatorship) but as the matter of what you believe in has always been very emotional and important to many of us, this is a very discussable matter.
LEGAL MATTERS VERSUS EMOTIONS
Of course legal matters are never easy to conclude and this article surely makes no claim to be able to solve this issue in any way. But it might spark a very interesting discussion about the obligations of a state which is a constantly changing structure created by its predecessor or about the question how we can deal with the fact that a lot of our money goes into projects that we might possibly massively disagree with. Of course tolerance is an important part of the development of our societies and our civilization but I for example prefer acceptance over tolerance as what I accept, I like, while what I tolerate I do not.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?
What do you think about the way the German state’s deal with the protestant and Catholic church? Or how do you deal with the fact that your government -that might be the German one if you are an expat over here- spends your money on project that might be difficult for you to tolerate?
With these words, I wish you a Frohe Ostern (=happy holiday) unless you belong to the 68% that most likely don’t care about the resurrection of Christ. If you are in Germany, you might at least enjoy a really long weekend as the shops and work places are closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday.
* There are also a few smaller churches which members are obliged to pay that tax. Those are:
-The Catholic Diocese of the Old-Catholics in Germany
-The Free Churches in the Parishes of Baden, Mainz, Offenbach and Pfalz)
-Unitarian Free Religious Community of Protestant)
-The Jewisch Parishes
By the way, in 2013 the majority of the Germans was without confession (~26 Mio.)