Religious freedom in Germany

Constitutionally irrelevant

Does Islam have to be compatible with the German constitution, as the AfD is demanding? The question is pointless: the constitution requires nothing of the sort – from either Muslims or Christians. By Dieter Grimm

The German constitution guarantees freedom of religion, for each and every religion. Freedom of religion doesn′t just mean that an individual can decide whether he wants to follow a religion and if so, then which. It also means that the faith community itself decides on the content of its creed and the behaviour expected of its followers in accordance with that creed.

Under the constitution, the state does not have the right to prescribe what a religious community is permitted to believe and what it is not. A religious community is also at liberty to regard its own beliefs as the one true faith and others as mistaken. It can even regard combatting their mistake as a religious duty.

Establishing the truth without the state

If the beliefs of a religion had to be compatible with the German constitution, then Christianity would run into difficulties in Germany, too. Like many other religions, it claims that its God-given doctrine is generally valid rather than just applicable within the religion. If Christian denominations weren′t allowed to claim that they serve the one true God, before whom all other gods are mere idols, they would have to renounce the First Commandment.

Catholicism would be incompatible with the constitution, because its priesthood is reserved for men – and priests who choose to marry are defrocked. A religious community founded on divine truth, as Christianity is, cannot be tied to democratic constitutions, either. World religions would become impossible if they had to align their beliefs with the national constitutions of the countries where they are practised.

Women praying in a Berlin mosque (photo: imago)
Ideological neutrality: ″the state not only respects freedom of religion, but protects religions against attacks from third parties. It doesn′t force religion out of the public sphere, but gives it space and if necessary even creates that space – the very opposite of a secular fundamentalism, pitched against religions ,″ writes Dieter Grimm

The state even has a duty to protect freedom of religion, as it does all basic rights – no matter whether it is the religion of the indigenous or immigrant population and whether that religion upholds the state′s own values or goes directly against them.

That means that the state not only respects freedom of religion, but protects religions against attacks from third parties. It doesn′t force religion out of the public sphere, but gives it space and if necessary even creates that space – the very opposite of a secular fundamentalism, pitched against religions.

As a result, religions are not forced to give up their claim to truth. Rather, each is able to maintain its own claim to truth, precisely because the state itself stays out of the question and doesn′t side with anyone.

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