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  • March 2016 : Towards the end of the “welcoming culture” (Willkommenskultur) in Germany ?

We can remember images of the outburst of solidarity and generosity of the German population - a sign of this welcoming culture (Willkommenskultur) - greeting floods of refugees in Munich station during summer 2015, while at the same time other European countries were already making preparations to close their borders. The German government announced as of September 2015 that it was going to release an additional six billion euros to take care of asylum applicants and refugees in 2016. This massive commitment by Germany to welcome migrants mainly originating from Syria and Iraq can be explained in particular by economic and demographic reasons, but it is also a moral obligation for Chancellor Angela Merkel. We cannot, however, ignore that the continuous flow of migrants is fuelling growing doubts among a section of the population about the Chancellor’s migration policy and Germany’s capacity to integrate such migrants socially, economically and culturally. We also cannot ignore that recurring attacks and xenophobic violence targeting reception centres for asylum applicants or migrants’ accommodation have continued to multiply in recent months.

In this increasingly explosive context, it is legitimate to wonder whether the theft, violence and sexual attacks to which hundreds of German women were subjected on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and in other large cities in the country do not spell the end for the Willkommenskultur in Germany. Many issues relating to these attacks have not been cleared up to date, but Cologne’s public prosecutor nevertheless revealed in February that more than 1,000 complaints had been recorded (of which about half for sexual offences) and that among the 73 suspects under investigation, the police had identified 30 Algerians, 27 Morrocans, 4 Iraqis, 3 Tunisians, 3 Germans, 3 Syrians, 1 Libyan, 1 Iranian and 1 Montenegrin, a very large majority of whom had come to Germany in 2015. The foreign origin of the attackers and their religious affiliation to Islam, used to explain the violence which occurred on New Year’s Eve, provoked violent debates in the media and on social networks. Beyond the traumatism which such an event represents in the very multicultural city of Cologne and more widely in Germany, we may wonder about the reasons for which these events were initially hushed up or played down by the Cologne police (see Presseportal) or by certain media. Through self-censure, keeping silent to avoid being accused of Islamophobia and denying that problems relating to integration are not only of an economic order, are we not risking playing into the hands of individuals or xenophobic groups, the anti-Muslim Pegida movement (“Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”) or of the populist AfD (“Alternative for Germany”) Party, whose rise does not seem to be slowing in advance of the upcoming regional elections in three Länder on 13 March next year ?

Faced with the immense challenge that the refugee crisis represents, it is important not to be content with moral posturing nor yielding to invective, but to enable debates on economic, demographic and cultural (religion, values…) issues to take place in total freedom.

For further information, see Die Zeit et Die Welt.

  • October 2013 : Conflict about the construction of a mosque in Leipzig

People are speaking out against the proposed construction of an Ahmadiyya mosque in the Gohlis district of Leipzig. Until now, members of the Ahmadiyya community would assemble in a private apartment to pray. The main arguments put forward by the project’s opponents are of the type : “They are Muslims, they commit crimes of honour, killings in the name of their religion, we don’t have to offer them a mosque”. Others believe that this project will increase traffic, noise...or fear trouble and clashes with the neighbours. The extreme-right NPD party spotted an opportunity here and in early November 2013 called for a “demonstration against Islamisation and the excessive presence of foreigners”. Social networks (Facebook...) witnessed an outbreak of anti-Islamic verbal aggression, while online petitions against the construction have already collected several thousand signatures.

For more information, see Leipziger Volkszeitung.

  • 13 November 2012 : Hamburg signs two agreements with Muslim and Alevi associations

After several years of discussion, the City State of Hamburg has signed two agreements, one with three Muslim organisations (DITIB Regional Association, Hamburg ; SHURA - the Council of Islamic Communities in Hamburg ; VIKZ – the Association of Islamic Cultural Centres), the other with the Alevi community (the Alevi Community of Gerrmany). These agreements were signed on 13 November 2012 by the city state’s senate and will still have to be approved by its parliament (Bürgerschaft), before they can come into force.

The two agreements - of almost identical content - confirm the key constitutional rights and obligations already guaranteed. The main innovation concerns legal recognition of certain Muslim or Alevi holidays that have acquired the status of religious holidays.

The agreements reaffirm freedom of religion for Muslim or Alevi believers and the right for their communities to organise themselves freely within the limits of the law (Art. 1). They recall that the parties are attached to the common fundamental values of the constitutional legal order, in particular the guarantee of fundamental rights and tolerance towards other cultures. The parties also condemn violence and discrimination based on ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, convictions or religious and political beliefs (Art. 2 §1).

In particular, they undertake to guarantee gender equality and the full participation of women and girls in society and in political, school and professional spheres. They cannot, for example, have their professional opportunities unjustifiably restricted, because they wear clothing related to their religious convictions (Art. 2 §2).

Three holidays are recognized as religious holidays in accordance with the law on public holidays in Hamburg (Feiertagsgesetz) : the Feast of the Sacrifice, Ramadan and Ashura for Muslims ; Ashura, Nevruz (21 March) and Hizir-Lokmasi (16 February) for the Alevis (Art. 3).

Moreover, the agreements reaffirm the right for these communities to create their own educational establishments (Art. 4) and to participate in courses of religious instruction in state schools ; a working group was formed in order to reflect on curriculum content and on the organization of the teaching (Art. 4 - Muslims, Art. 5 - Alevi).

The City State of Hamburg will also promote creation of a training centre for Muslim theology and religious education at the University of Hamburg, designed to train teachers of religion (Art. 5 - Muslims, Art. 6 - Alevi).

The other provisions of the agreements relate to : spiritual assistance in specialized establishments (Art. 7) ; participation in audio-visual media (Art. 8) ; guaranteeing rights to own, construct and operate places of worship and other establishments (Art. 9) ; cemeteries and burials (Art. 10).

Hamburg’s Mayor, Olaf Scholz, has welcomed the signing of these agreements as contributing to the success of integration policy and as a sign of a strong desire to cooperate. For their part, Muslim and Alevi organizations have stated that these agreements are of historic significance in that they mark explicit recognition of Muslims in Hamburg as citizens in their own right, as an integral part of society and as institutional partners of the state.

For further information, see :
 Contract between the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, the DITIB Regional Association in Hamburg, SCHURA – the Council of Islamic Communities in Hamburg and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centres
 Contract between the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and the Association for the Alevi Community in Germany

  • 20 September 2012 : People leaving the Church, a Catholic bishops decree and a Federal Administrative Court’s ruling

In Germany, the Catholic Church and Protestant churches receive a religious tax payable by income tax payers, which amounts to 8%-10% of income tax depending on the Länder. The constitutional principle of freedom of religion allows every citizen to make a declaration at the local court to withdraw from the church, in order to decline any religious affiliation and not pay the tax.

The number of people deciding to leave the Catholic Church has been relatively high in recent years, in particular as a reaction to cases of paedophilia. 126,488 people left the Church in 2011, according to figures provided by the Episcopal Conference.

In response to this phenomenon, the German Episcopal Conference issued a decree on 20 September 2012 on withdrawing from the Church (Kirchenaustritt) ; it takes the view that the withdrawal process constitutes a deliberate and wilful step away from the Church and a serious offence to the ecclesial community. The bishops considered that it was not possible to separate the spiritual church community from the institution of the church. Withdrawing from the Church cannot therefore be partial and is accompanied by the following legal consequences for individuals concerned :

 They cannot receive the sacraments of confession, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick - except where there is risk of death ;
 They cannot occupy any office or ecclesiastical responsibility in the Church ;
 They cannot become a godmother or godfather ;
 They cannot be a member of parish or diocesan councils ;
 They lose their active and passive voting rights in the Church ;
 They cannot be member of a public religious organization ;
 They must apply for authorization to the local ordinary if wishing to marry in church ;
 They may be denied a religious funeral.

The decree provides that the relevant minister of religion must take up contact with each person that has announced their exit from the Church, via a pastoral letter and possibly an interview, to inform them of the consequences of this withdrawal, but also to encourage them to rejoin the church community with full exercise of their rights and duties.

The texts of the decree and the pastoral letter are on the website of the German Episcopal Conference.

The Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht) also ruled, in a judgment of 26 September 2012 (BVerwG 6 C 7.12), that a person making a declaration withdrawing from the Catholic Church cannot simply withdraw from the associative structure and remain within the faith community. Belonging to a religious community with public status, such as the Roman Catholic Church, has consequences in religious terms as well as in state law - linked, for example, to church tax. The decision to leave may not have solely legal repercussions.

Press release by the German Federal Administrative Court.

D 19 octobre 2023    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

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