The Situation of Church and State in Germany
In times of religiously legitimized fundamental terrorism, religion is obviously still playing a big role in the ways of the world. Though it’s easy to think the world would be quite secularized, the great religions are in fact gaining in numbers. And despite every society usually viewing itself as the norm, Germany is indeed one of the exceptions when it comes to its religious make-up. Taking into consideration that having a denomination doesn’t necessarily mean you are a particularly religious or faithful person, still more than half of the German population is a member of either the Catholic or the Protestant churches. In addition, circa 5,5 % of Germans is part of another confession, such as the Islam or Judaism. The rest of the population is undenominational, that means roughly 30 Million of 80 Million people. What makes Germany one of the exceptions is that above all the two large Christian churches have continuously been losing members, and are going on to do so. In any case, the churches are still of utmost importance in Germany. So, let us take a look at the relationship of church and state in the country.
Bound by Contract
In Germany, the relationship between the state and the two major churches is defined by a contract. The foundation of this contract is the separation of church and state, which in turn can be traced back to the French Revolution and the development of laicism. The term laicism is derived from the French word “laïc”, which originally meant anyone who was not part of the clergy. A laical state is thus one that bases its values not or at least not only on religious commandments and that ultimately places religion in the private life of its citizens. Germany is almost a laical state, in that there is an official separation of church and state. Churches should not have a say in state matters. As it usually goes with us humans, things are, of course, not quite so clear.
For one, the Bundesrepublik is collecting a special church tax (though only from those who actually are church members) for the churches. In return, churches compensate the tax authorities for their efforts. Additionally, Christian holidays are statutory in Germany. But, Churches, respectively organizations that have equal contracts with the state, profit, even more, form German law. They legally are charitable organizations, which has an impact on the taxes they have to pay. Further, the salaries of bishops and religion teachers (who are not allowed to teach without the consent of their respective church) are being paid by the state, not through church taxes but out of the budget that pays civil servants. At the same time, the churches are able to dictate the rules of the working environments. The maintenance of buildings owned by the church is also financed by all taxpayers. In numbers, that’s a sum of about 450 Million Euro each year (not including the church tax). Thus, the Christian churches in Germany are definitely privileged in comparison to other religious organizations.
As mentioned before, the details of these issues are defined in state contracts, the so-called concordats with the Vatican and the Church-State Treaties with the Protestant Church. A very few other representative religious organizations, such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany, have coherent contracts with the Bundesrepublik. As there are many smaller religious organizations that do not have equivalent contracts with the state and merely count as e.g. non-profit associations, it is noteworthy, that these kinds of contracts are very special. As you see, we can’t really speak of a complete separation of church and state.