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2021

D 17 June 2021   

2020

October 2020: Antisemitism in Germany
The Pharos observatory proposes an article on the difficult management of Antisemitism in Germany. February 2020: Federal Constitutional Court approves (...)

  • October 2020: Antisemitism in Germany

The Pharos observatory proposes an article on the difficult management of Antisemitism in Germany.

  • February 2020: Federal Constitutional Court approves headscarf ban during hearings for trainee lawyers

The decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of 14 January 2020, made public on 27 February 2020, validated the ban on the wearing of headscarves by trainee lawyers during hearings, deeming that such a ban was not contrary to the Basic Law.

The Federal Constitutional Court had been seized by a German-Moroccan trainee lawyer who wore a headscarf during her practical training in 2017 in Hesse, a Land where trainee lawyers of the Muslim faith may wear a headscarf in the performance of their duties, with the exception of a few specific tasks for which they are perceived as representatives of the State. In the name of the principle of religious neutrality, trainees wearing headscarves must therefore sit on benches reserved for the public in courtrooms and may not conduct hearings or give evidence. The Frankfurt Administrative Court had initially ruled in favour of the complainant, but the decision was overturned by the Hesse Administrative Court of Appeal.

The decision by the judges of Karlsruhe comes within the context of a broader debate on the wearing of headscarves in public administrations in Germany, a country where federalism gives rise to varying regulations and legislation (authorisation or prohibition of the wearing of headscarves) from one Land to the next. Generally speaking, civil servants are required to keep their faces uncovered during the performance of their duties across the Rhine, except for health or safety reasons. Several Länder prohibit religious signs for judges and prosecutors. As for female teachers, they have been allowed to wear headscarves at school since the decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court on 27 January 2015. In Berlin, however, the 2005 Neutrality Law, which prohibits the wearing of any conspicuous religious signs in civil service, is still in effect to this day.

For more information: Hessenschau, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit.

  • January 2020: An imam training centre to be opened

On Thursday, 9 January 2020, the DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union of Religious Affairs) is inaugurating a training centre for imams in Dahlem, a small town of some 4,200 inhabitants located in North Rhine-Westphalia, an initiative hailed by the Ministry of the Interior as an important step in so far as, up to this point, imams of German mosques came for in large part from abroad. Seventy students, all having earned the equivalent of the baccalaureate in Germany (Abitur), followed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic theology in Turkey, are already enrolled there for a two-year Imamate training. The German Conference on Islam estimates that there are currently almost 2,000 imams in Germany, half of them trained in Turkey, sent to Germany for a few years and paid by Turkey (Diyanet). German politicians have long called for the imams’ structural, financial and political independence from Turkey, criticising their proximity with respect to Ankara. Since 2011, centres for Islamic theology have been opened in multiple German universities, thanks to financial support from the State, in order to answer the question of training Islamic professors, but attempts to set up university courses for imamate training – particularly in Osnabrück – have so far not been successful.

For more information: Die Welt et Deutschlandfunk.

D 6 November 2020    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2019

29 April 2019: End-of-life debated in Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court
The German Federal Constitutional Court recently, in mid-April, addressed the issue of end-of-life. Since November (...)

  • 29 April 2019: End-of-life debated in Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court

The German Federal Constitutional Court recently, in mid-April, addressed the issue of end-of-life. Since November 2015, new legislation had expressly banned medically assisted suicide. Paragraph 217 of the German Criminal Code, amended in 2015, specifies: “Any person who intends to help another commit suicide and, in a professional capacity, provides him or her with the opportunity to take action is subject to a maximum prison sentence of three years or a fine.” Professional suicide assistance is now punishable by up to three years in prison, with doctors and professionals from organised suicide assistance facing criminal prosecution. In 2017, though, in a stunning move, the Federal Administrative Court of Leipzig issued a ruling stating that “in exceptional cases, the State cannot prevent a patient from gaining access to anaesthetic products that would allow him to commit suicide in a dignified and pain-free manner.” Faced with the protests sparked by such a decision, particularly from the Catholic and Protestant churches, the federal government ultimately suspended its enforcement in 2018. Since 2015, political and judicial players have been divided, countering each other on the issue of assisted suicide. Doctors, patients and end-of-life care professionals, who believe that paragraph 217 of the Criminal Code violates Sections 1 and 2 of the German Basic Law on “intangible” respect for human “dignity”, have to wit appealed to the German Federal Constitutional Court, in the hopes of enabling incurable people wishing to abridge their suffering to do so with dignity. In a country where the number of people ages 65 or over represented 17.7 million people (i.e. 21.4% of the population) at the end of 2017, this is a sensitive subject that is facing, on the one hand, opposition from the Churches, who are in favour of an expansion of palliative care, and which is causing the ghosts of the past to resurface, as the Nazi regime used euthanasia to kill disabled people. The president of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle, said at the opening of the proceedings: “The purpose is not to make a moral or political assessment of suicide and its impact on society ... but [to establish] the extent of the freedom limited by the threat of prosecution.” The decision of the Karlsruhe judges is not expected for several months.

See: Ärzte Zeitung, T.Online, L’Obs.

  • 21 April 2019: On the way to reimbursement of non-invasive prenatal diagnosis by health insurance funds?

The possible reimbursement of non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPT) for Trisomy 21 is currently being debated in Germany. The German government is considering the reimbursement of NIPT, which can be performed as early as the tenth week of pregnancy from a mother’s blood test, next year, to detect the risk of foetal Trisomy 21. Available commercially in Germany since 2012, already 150,000 blood tests have been sold, at prices ranging from €129 to €299. The Catholic Church and some twenty associations working for the integration of people with Trisomy 21 oppose such a decision, which they believe would lead to the trivialisation of screening tests. They warn of the ethical problems that would arise from widespread screening, namely the establishment of systematic prevention of any genetic abnormality, a greater number of abortions and an increase in social exclusion faced by families who have a child with trisomy 21. The German Protestant Church, for its part, has taken position in favour of the provision of non-invasive prenatal screening for Trisomy 21 by health insurance funds, while also calling for better support for pregnant women: “Non-invasive prenatal diagnosis should only be offered and carried where serious psychosocial and ethical support can be provided”.

See: Der Tagesspiegel, Die Zeit, Gènéthique.

  • 8 January 2019: A religious tax for Muslims soon to come?

Several leaders of the German government coalition, made up of Christian Democrats (CDU-CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD), recently declared their support for the introduction of a religious tax for Muslims, also known as the “mosque tax” (Moschee-Steuer), which could be levied by the State, then paid to Islamic associations, modelled on the Church tax (Kirchensteuer) paid by those who declare their belonging to the Catholic Church or the Protestant Church. The latter are not the only ones to benefit from such tax: they are joined by the Orthodox Churches, Jewish communities or even Jehovah’s Witnesses. The introduction of such a tax would aim to limit foreign influences and promote an autonomous German Islam, emancipated from the guardianship and financial support of foreign States. Today, imams exercising their functions in the 900 or so mosques or places of worship run by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) are sent to Germany and paid by the Turkish State. While the majority of political parties seem to endorse the introduction of this tax, the idea seems unrealistic for several reasons: firstly, because Islam in Germany is pluralistic and there is no single federation representing all Muslim movements; secondly, because it is possible to call oneself a Muslim without being a member of a mosque, hence the difficulty of counting the number of Muslims; lastly, because the condition for a religious community to be able to levy such a tax is that it be recognised at the level of a Land as a corporation under public law (Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts), a status which supposes that the religious community concerned presents guarantees of stability, in particular through its statutes, its duration of existence and a minimum number of members. Currently, though, only the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat community - which presents itself as a Muslim community but is not recognised as such by Muslim orthodoxy - which has about 35,000 members and manages about 50 mosques in Germany, has been granted the status of public law corporation. The German-Turkish lawyer Seyran Ates, the first woman to become an imam in Germany after studying theology, founded a “liberal” mosque in Berlin in June 2017 - open to all currents of Islam, as well as to women and homosexuals - meanwhile defends the idea of limiting influences and funding from abroad, without, however, being in favour of such a tax. Specifically, she does not want the recognition as public law corporations of many Islamic associations which she considers unrepresentative of Muslims and declares herself more in favour of voluntary donations from the Muslim worshippers. Given the many obstacles that remain to be overcome, it would appear indeed that the implementation of this initiative is not for tomorrow.

See: Der Tagesspiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine.

D 29 April 2019    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2018

May 2018: Crosses in public buildings in Bavaria
From 1 June 2018 on, a cross should be hung in the entrance hall of public buildings in Bavaria as a sign of recognition of the Bavarian (...)

  • May 2018: Crosses in public buildings in Bavaria

From 1 June 2018 on, a cross should be hung in the entrance hall of public buildings in Bavaria as a sign of recognition of the Bavarian identity. This measure, which comes at the initiative of the Minister-President of Bavaria, Markus Söder, was decided on 24 April 2018 by the Bavarian government as a whole, without requiring a vote by the Bavarian Regional Parliament. It will apply only to buildings owned by the State of Bavaria and not to those of the federal state (Bund) or the municipalities.

However, Bavaria’s Minister of Sciences, Marion Kiechle, distanced herself from the Bavarian government leader’s decision to impose a cross on the entrance to public buildings in Bavaria, saying it was not "a particularly clever idea”. The Bavarian government has come under widespread criticism from the Greens, particularly the Liberals. Liberal Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner said: “The way in which Markus Söder and the CSU are exploiting religions for partisan purposes is reminiscent of Turkish President Erdogan. The Basic Law has no religion” (Die Welt). The head of the Bavarian government, Markus Söder, dismissed all criticism, saying that the cross was above all a “decisive symbol of Western-Christian cultural identity”.

In the early 1990s, in a public school in Bavaria, Anthroposophic parents had requested that crucifixes be removed from classrooms in which their children were schooled. Their complaint having been rejected by the administrative jurisprudence of Bavaria, they then turned to the Federal Constitutional Court of Karlsruhe, which issued its decision on 16 May 1995, stating that the obligation, enshrined in the rules of Bavarian public schools, to hang crosses in classrooms was an infringement of the fundamental principle of freedom of conscience and religion (Art. 4 of the Basic Law) and the principle of State neutrality. The judges had found that the cross was not only a traditional cultural symbol, but insisted on its confessional character. As the presence of crucifixes in Bavarian classrooms was deemed incompatible with the Basic Law, the State of Bavaria was asked to no longer make the display of crucifixes mandatory in public school classrooms. The Bavarian parliament ultimately adopted a law in December 1995 reaffirming the presence of a cross in each public school classroom and provided for a conciliation procedure in the event of dispute. Since the ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court in May 1995, crosses can be removed from Bavarian classrooms upon individual request.

See: Zeit online, Spiegel online, Die Welt.

D 14 May 2018    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2017

June 2017: Bundestag vote in favour of same-sex marriage
German MPs passed a bill on 30 June allowing same-sex marriage by a large majority (393 votes in favour, 226 against and 4 abstentions). (...)

  • June 2017: Bundestag vote in favour of same-sex marriage

German MPs passed a bill on 30 June allowing same-sex marriage by a large majority (393 votes in favour, 226 against and 4 abstentions). In early July, the Bundesrat, the upper house of Parliament, also gave the green light to adopt the bill. Germany thus joins the twenty western countries having already legalised same-sex marriage.
By joining forces with the Greens and the radical left (Die Linke), two opposition political parties, and imposing a vote on the issue of marriage for all, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a partner to the ruling grand coalition, got ahead Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had initially envisioned a vote after the next general election in late September. The latter confirmed that she had voted against the bill.
By recognising identical rights for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples, the bill paves the way for same-sex couples to gain the right to adopt, which was hardly possible until now. The Bundestag passed legislation in 2001 introducing a civil union with rights equivalent to marriage, except for certain tax and adoption benefits. The Protestant Church applauded the Bundestag’s vote in favour of marriage for all, while the Catholic Church condemned it.

For further information: Spiegel.de, Faz.de, Zeit.de.

  • June 2017: A " liberal " mosque is inaugurated in Berlin

On 16 June, the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe Mosque opened its doors in Berlin. The name of this mosque refers to Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), known by his Latin name Averroes, doctor, lawyer and philosopher, who embodied an enlightened Islam, distinctive in its desire to reconcile faith and reason, philosophy and Revelation, Aristotle and the Koran, as well as Goethe (1749-1832), whose fascination with the East is well known, as attested to by one of his last works, The West-Eastern Divan.
This “liberal” mosque is open to all religious currents of Islam, to Shia, Sunnis, Alevis and Sufis alike. Men and women pray side by side, and women are free not to a wear head coverings if they wish. It is temporarily housed in a former theatre in St Johannis Protestant Parish in Moabit. Seyran Ates, a German-Turkish lawyer who was born in Istanbul and grew up in Germany, and known for her fight for the rights of Muslim women, is the figure behind the project. From 2006 to 2009, she participated as an independent Muslim figure in the German Conference on Islam (Deutsche Islamkonferenz), a forum for dialogue between State and Muslim stakeholders, established in 2006 at the initiative of Wolfgang Schäuble, when he was Minister of the Interior. On the day of the mosque’s inauguration, Seyran Ates preached on Friday. She has received hundreds of death threats since then, and has been granted police protection.
The mosque’s inauguration sparked hostile reactions from Muslims. The President of the Islamic Council of RFA (Islamrat für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland), Burhan Kesici, declared that the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque was not a mosque (the Islamic Council of RFA, established in 1986 in Berlin, initially brought together Islamic associations linked to Turkey).
In Turkey, the Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs) tried to bring the mosque founded by Seyran Ates into disrepute, accusing it of being affiliated with the Gülen movement. The initiative is also a source of division within the St Johannis Protestant parish, as evidenced by the distribution of leaflets hostile to the mosque project on the day of the inauguration by a group of parishioners “Active Citizens for a Christian Germany” (Aktive Bürger Christliches Deutschland).

For more information: Der Tagesspiegel, Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Tiergarten, Spiegel.de.

  • June 2017: Consequences of the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of 27 January 2015 for the State of Berlin

In a decision of 27 January 2015, made public in March 2015, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the general ban on the Islamic headscarf was not compatible with the freedom of belief and religion enshrined in the Basic Law (Article 4, §1-2). It thus reasserted the importance of individual fundamental rights and freedoms and ruled in favour of the equal treatment of religions and religious plurality. However, the judges of Karlsruhe deemed that a headscarf ban could apply if there was a “concrete danger” that the State’s neutrality be called into question or if the wearing of a headscarf could disturb the peace of the school or the proper functioning of an establishment.
Far from bringing the debate to a close or putting an end to any conflicts, the Constitutional Court’s decision of January 2015 raised uncertainties and questions about its application and opened the door to a wave of appeals to the courts, as eight German States have adopted prohibitive legislation since 2004 on the wearing of religious symbols in schools or civil service. The State of Berlin announced in 2015 that it was not willing to make any changes to its Neutrality Act of 2005 prohibiting all public officials from wearing conspicuous religious symbols. However, it was obliged to pay two months’ compensation wages to Muslim female teachers in Berlin under rulings by the Berlin Labour Court in 2017. Since 2015, several female teachers have filed complaints against the state of Berlin, claiming that they were discriminated against on religious grounds, having not been recruited in Berlin’s public schools because of their stated intention to keep their headscarves in the school environment.
The contended revision of the Neutrality Law of 2005 is now dividing the different formations of the Berlin government coalition. A coalition of the SPD, the Greens and the radical left Die Linke has been in power in Berlin since 2016. While the Social Democrats (SPD) are fiercely committed to a strict separation between the State and religions and hostile to any revision of the 2005 law, the other partners of the coalition currently in power in Berlin (the Greens and Die Linke) do not see it that way and have spoken out in favour of amending the Berlin Neutrality Law, as have the Christian churches, which had hailed the Constitutional Court’s decision of 27 January 2015.

Pour en savoir plus : Die Zeit, Faz.de, Taz.de.

D 7 August 2017    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2016

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 (...)

  • 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.

  • February 2016: Church tax and exits from the Church

Since 2010, there has been an increase in “exits from the Church”, i.e. the number of members of the Protestant or Catholic Churches who state they want to leave this institution (in 2012, this phenomenon prompted a decree of the Episcopal Conference and a decision of the Federal Administrative Court, see the current debates 2012).

An “exit from the Church”, or Kirchenaustritt, is a purely administrative act. To be struck off the registers of believers, one needs only go to the Civil Registry or the District Court, depending on one’s Land of residence. It should be recalled that in Germany, religious communities can charge a religious tax, Kirchensteuer, which is deducted from income at the source and paid to the corresponding Church by the tax office. In 2013, the Churches reportedly collected nearly 10 billion in taxes in this manner. Record figures were reached in 2014 with more than 217,000 departures from the Catholic church and some 270,000 from the Protestant church (in 2012, they recorded 118,000 and 138,000 departures respectively). According to the explanations put forward, some members of the Churches had reportedly anticipated from 2014 the new tax regulation that came into effect on 1 January 2015, which extends the Church tax to capital income for earnings greater than 801 euros for a single person and 1602 euros for a couple. This reform has not sat well with the faithful, many seeing it as collusion between the Churches and the banks, since it is the banks that deduct the tax directly from the accounts of those of their clients who belong to a Church, via an automatic collection procedure, using information received from the tax authorities about their clients’ religious affiliation. Yet this measure should probably be seen only as a trigger, revealing the increasingly frayed ties between the faithful and the institutional churches.

For more information, see: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung et Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.

D 5 April 2016    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2015

January 2015: the German Constitutional Court revises its 2003 judgment on Muslim women teachers wearing headscarves
The German Constitutional Court has just revised its 2003 judgment on the (...)

  • January 2015: the German Constitutional Court revises its 2003 judgment on Muslim women teachers wearing headscarves

The German Constitutional Court has just revised its 2003 judgment on the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women teachers in state schools. The 2003 decision by the Karlsruhe judges stipulated that a ban was only possible on a legislative basis, thereby opening the way for bans in law at a Länder-based level. Since 2004, half of the Länder had banned headscarf wearing by Muslim women teachers. In Berlin, all signs of religious affiliation without exception had been prohibited in schools and the public sector since 2005.

However, in its judgment of 27 January 2015, published 13 March 2015, the Constitutional Court sides with two Muslim women teaching in Rhineland North-Westphalia who had been waiting nearly five years for the judges in Karlsruhe to issue their decision on wearing headscarves in schools. The latter considered that a total ban on headscarves for Muslim women teachers constitutes an attack on the principle of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution. A ban does, however, remain an option if wearing the headscarf disturbs the peace in schools in a concrete way or if it threatens the neutrality of the State. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany, in the words of its Secretary-General Nurhan Soykan, welcomed the judgment by the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, seeing it as “a positive signal”.

If this judgment does not constitute a general authorisation to wear the headscarf, a wave of appeals before the courts will surely ensue. Several Länder will therefore have to re-examine or adapt their legislation.

For further information: Die Zeit, Mediendienst-integration and Der Spiegel.

  • January 2015: the Pegida movement

Following the acts of terrorism which cost the lives of 17 victims in France, 25,000 people according to the police (40,000 according to organisers) demonstrated in Dresden on Monday 12 January following a call by the anti-Islamic movement Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”) and did so in spite of calls by the German Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, to abandon this gathering and not exploit the Paris attacks. For the twelfth consecutive week, demonstrators therefore marched through Dresden reusing the slogan “Wir sind das Volk!” (“We are the people”), chanted in 1989 by those demonstrating against the GDR regime during the weeks which preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A vast counter-mobilisation then took place in early January throughout the country, bringing together some 100,000 people, including 30,000 in Leipzig. In several large cities, the opponents of the Pegida movement were more numerous than the Pegida demonstrators. The principal targets of the Pegida movement are Islam, foreigners and multiculturalism, as well as different media. Pegida is supported by various extreme right-wing parties as well as movements such as the Alternative Party for Germany (AfD), an anti-European party which narrowly missed entering the Bundestag in September 2013 and sent seven members to the European Parliament in May 2014.

On Tuesday 13 January, President Joachim Gauck and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part, as did several ministers, in a silent march against Islamophobia in Berlin, organised by Muslim organisations, alongside Aiman Mazyek, President of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. “We are all Germany”, exclaimed the head of the German State in front of 10,000 people. Angela Merkel, who had warned her compatriots against the temptation of Islamophobia in her 2015 New Year message, reaffirmed that Islam constituted an integral part of Germany.
In spite of counter-demonstrations which have taken place throughout Germany, the Pegida movement is gaining ground: in fact, a Pegida gathering is envisaged in Vienna for early February.

See: Die Zeit, Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche.

D 4 May 2015    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2014

October 2014:
on 14 October 2014 an agreement was signed between the government of the City State of Bremen and Alevi federations, following the example agreement signed previously in other (...)

  • October 2014:

on 14 October 2014 an agreement was signed between the government of the City State of Bremen and Alevi federations, following the example agreement signed previously in other Länder (Hamburg, Lower Saxony…). Henceforth, Alevi religious festivals are officially recognised in Bremen. Alevi employees will therefore have the right not to work (they will have to take a day off) on such occasions and Alevi schoolchildren will be able to benefit from school exemptions.

For the municipality of Bremen, it is a question above all of showing that Alevis have the same rights as other citizens, whether Protestant, Catholic or Jewish. It should, however, be noted that Alevis consider themselves an autonomous, non-Muslim belief group, whereas they are generally perceived to be a branch of Islam by non-Muslims. Today, nearly 10,000 people of Alevi confession live in Bremen and nearly 800,000 in Germany.

Source: Pressestelle des Senats-Bremen, Radiobremen and Hürriyet Daily News.

  • April 2014:

following a complaint made by a Muslim pupil, the administrative court of appeal in Bavaria stipulated in its judgment of 22 April 2014 that the existing school authority ban on wearing the niqab cannot be regarded as a violation of religious freedom, due to the fact that the niqab hampers non-verbal communication between teacher and pupil.

For further information: Süddeutsche.

  • March 2014: Modification to funeral legislation in Baden-Württemberg:

The Parliament of Baden-Württemberg, a Land which numbers nearly 650,000 Muslims and is led by a Green Party minister-president and a coalition made up of Greens and SPD, has just passed in late March 2014 a law modifying funeral rites which will make it possible for Muslims to be buried in accordance with the requirements of their religion. There is no longer the obligation to use a coffin for funerals of Muslims - they can henceforth be buried in a simple shroud - nor the statutory 48 hour period between time of death and burial.
In spite of reservations by Christian Democrats who feared that this measure would open the floodgates to massive numbers of coffin-less burials, the law was passed unanimously by the four parliamentary groups represented in the regional parliament (Greens, SPD, CDU, FDP). Minister for integration Bilkay Öney (SPD) saw this amendment as taking into account religious diversity and making a contribution to the integration of Muslims.
This possibility exists in several other Länder (in Lower Saxony, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland) and the first Muslim cemetery is to be inaugurated in Wuppertal in 2014.

For further information: Bayern 2, Migazin, Stuttgarter Zeitung and Die Welt.

D 30 October 2014    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2013

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 (...)

  • 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.

  • June 2013: For the first time in Germany, a Muslim organisation is recognised as a public law corporation

In June 2013, a Muslim association - the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community - was recognised for the first time as a public law corporation in the Land of Hessen. This decision was met with some reserve by other Muslim organisations or federations, most of which did not recognise the Ahmadis - a Muslim reformist movement founded in India at the end of the nineteenth century - as Muslims.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community should thus be able to benefit from many privileges in the same way as Christian churches, the Jewish community, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc., who already benefit from such status. If it is not considering imposing a tax, as it would now be entitled to do, it would, however, like to open Muslim cemeteries, particularly in Hamburg where it is well established. The Ahmadiyya community has about 35,000 members in Germany and manages around 30 mosques throughout the country. It also provides courses in Islamic religion at primary schools in the Land of Hessen.

For further information, see Die Zeit and Der Spiegel.

  • 28 March 2013: Muslims in Germany request two public holidays for Muslim festivals

One of the Muslim associations in Germany, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland) has asked the federal government to write into law two public holidays in the religious calendar: one day during the period of Ramadan and one for Eid al-Fitr, the feast of the sacrifice, which closes the month of fasting. This measure would be not imposed automatically on all citizens, but would allow Muslims to take time off work during their religious festivals. Germany has approximately four million Muslims. For them, this decision would allow them to be better integrated and tolerated in German society.

For the moment, only the City-State of Hamburg, governed by the SPD, has concluded an agreement with Muslims allowing them to be able to take three days’ holiday (see Current Debates - Autumn 2012). The Conservative parties of the CDU and CSU are against this project, stating that Germany has no Islamic tradition or culture and that its calendar is based on a Western Christian tradition, not to mention that the measure would be too costly to fund. For the SPD, on the other hand, recognising Jewish and Muslim festivals would be a good thing, because people from these faiths form an integral part of society.

For further information, see Le Figaro and Die Welt.

  • February 2013: Catholic hospitals in Cologne to look after rape victims and allow them the morning-after pill

Last January, a controversy erupted in Germany when two Catholic clinics in Cologne refused to take care of a rape victim requesting the morning-after pill (Die Welt). Health Minister, Barbara Steffens, qualified this case as “scandalous” and a meeting was convened to clarify the situation in Rhineland-Palatinate. The Regional Health Minister, Alexander Schweitzer, and the Union of Catholic Hospitals therefore met on 14 February in the presence of the Bishop of Mainz, Karl Lehmann. The same day, a communiqué was issued, stating that victims of rape had always been welcomed by Catholic hospitals and that treatment “preventing conception without abortifacient effect” could be prescribed. Not only would rape victims benefit from psychological support, but they would also be provided with the necessary information on emergency contraception. Training taking into account the medical, ethical and legal aspects will be offered to hospital personnel, to enable them to assess the situation in a responsible manner. The patient’s final decision will have to be respected.

  • January 2013: The debate on circumcision in Germany

A law setting out the legal framework for ritual circumcision was adopted on 20 December 2012. It was created in order to put an end to several months’ controversy and legal uncertainty created by the ban on this practice for religious purposes pronounced by the Cologne High Court in June 2012. The case dated back to 2010, brought about by a circumcision performed on a young four year-old Tunisian who had to be sent to A&E due to complications that arose two days after his operation. Prosecutors then filed a complaint against the doctor with the Cologne District Court. The latter ruled that the operation respected the “welfare of the child”. The prosecutor then appealed to the High Court, which acquitted the doctor due to the lack of a clear legal situation, while stating at the same time that circumcision represented “a wound to the body liable to give rise to criminal proceedings” and an infringement of “a child’s right to respect for his/her physical integrity”. The case provoked strong outcry in Germany among Muslims and Jews, who considered that there had been a violation of freedom of conscience.

For information, see the article in Die Zeit and Die Süddeutsche Zeitung.

D 4 November 2013    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

2012

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 (...)

  • 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

  • 10 October 2012 : New law guarantees right to perform circumcision

On 10 October 2012, the Federal Cabinet approved a draft bill aimed at removing the legal uncertainty surrounding circumcision that had been created by a judgment by the District Court of Cologne on 7 May 2012 (see Current debate of 7 May 2012 below).

The law adopted on 20 December 2012 inserts a new article into the Civil Code - § 1631d, which recognizes parents’ right to have a non-medically necessary circumcision (eine nicht erforderliche Beschneidung medizinisch) performed in accordance with medical standards on a male child who does not have the ability to discern and make a judgment (nicht einsichts- und urteilsfahiges mannliches Kind), except in cases where the operation might put him in danger. The circumcision may be performed during the first six months of the child’s life by a person designated by the religious community who has been specifically trained and is equipped with skills comparable to that of a doctor.

For further information, consult the text of the law (in German).

  • 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.

  • 7 May 2012 : Judgment of a German court condemns circumcision for religious reasons

In a decision of 7 May 2012, the High Court in Cologne judged that circumcising a child violated its fundamental right to physical integrity.

In the case, a doctor had performed a circumcision on a Muslim child for religious reasons, at his parents’ request. A few days after the operation, the child had to be admitted to another hospital for bleeding, which was treated without longer term consequences.

The doctor was then prosecuted by the hospital and acquitted by the local court (Amtsgericht Köln). The public prosecutor (Staatsanwaltschaft Köln) subsequently appealed and the acquittal was upheld by the county court (Landgericht Köln), on the grounds of ’mistake of law’ (’unvermeidbarer Verbotsirrtum’, Article 17 of the German Penal Code): the question of the legality of boys’ circumcision based on parental consent is not clearly defined in German law, so the doctor cannot be held responsible.

The court however drew attention to a constitutional limit on the religious rights of the parents, and that this limit had been attained in this matter. The tribunal paid particular attention to the fact that circumcision had permanently and irreparably changed (“dauerhaft und irreparabel verändert”) the child’s body and considered that this also affected his ability to decide subsequently on his religious affiliation.

The German courts are not bound by the judgment of a county court, but the law having thus been clarified, the decision could form jurisprudence and doctors could in the future be condemned for having performed circumcisions.

This judgment has triggered lively debate in Germany and further afield in Europe. The German Government maintained its desire to guarantee freedom of religious activities and parliamentarians are requesting a law to be passed aimed at protecting traditional religious rituals. For their part, European rabbis, assembled for a conference in Berlin on 12 July 2012, denounced this judgment and called for the circumcision of children in Germany to continue.

For further information, see the decision by the Landgericht Köln (in German).

D 30 November 2012   

2010

29 January 2010 : Theology and Religious Studies at University
The German Council of Science and Humanities (’Wissenschaftsrat’) has issued a report dated 29 January 2010 on the teaching of (...)

  • 29 January 2010 : Theology and Religious Studies at University

The German Council of Science and Humanities (’Wissenschaftsrat’) has issued a report dated 29 January 2010 on the teaching of theology and religious studies at university. In particular, it recommends creating institutes of Islamic studies to train imams and teachers of religion.

Read the report : Empfehlungen zur Weiterentwicklung von Theologien und religionsbezogenen Wissenschaften an deutschen Hochschulen

D 11 February 2010    AMatthias Koenig

2009

27 April 2009 : Berlin, referendum on religious instruction
In Berlin, there is on-going controversy over a popular initiative supported by churches and other religious communities, to introduce (...)

  • 27 April 2009 : Berlin, referendum on religious instruction

In Berlin, there is on-going controversy over a popular initiative supported by churches and other religious communities, to introduce religious instruction in public schools according to Article 7 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) as a full alternative to an ethics curriculum which is currently obligatory for all pupils.
The initiative has succeeded in finding enough support to force the Berlin Senate to organize a referendum which took place on April 27.

For further information on this initiative, see the website of the "Pro-Reli" Association.

D 7 May 2009    AMatthias Koenig

2005

24 March 2005 : Jehovah’s witnesses are recognised as a corporation under public law
Once again, Berlin’s Administrative Court of Appeal (Oberverwaltungsgericht) ruled in its Land Berlin vs. (...)

  • 24 March 2005 : Jehovah’s witnesses are recognised as a corporation under public law

Once again, Berlin’s Administrative Court of Appeal (Oberverwaltungsgericht) ruled in its Land Berlin vs. Religionsgemeinschaft der Zeugen Jehovas in Deutschland e.V. decision of 24 March 2005 that the Jehovah’s Witness religious community should be recognised as a corporation under public law. On 19 December 2004, the Constitutional Court of Karlsruhe had annulled a 1997 Federal Administrative Court decision refusing Jehovah’s Witnesses the status of corporation under public law due to their lack of loyalty to the State. The Federal Administrative Court then turned the case back over to the Administrative Court of Appeal, asking it to elucidate whether this religious community, through its stand on blood transfusions, education and the family, endangered the rights of others.
The Administrative Court of Appeal found all of the accusations brought against the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be groundless and any application to reopen proceedings was excluded.

For more information refer to the decision (in German).

  • 23 February 2005 : Recognition of an Islamic federation as a religious community

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht) quashed the Munster Administrative Court’s decision refusing a federation of Muslim associations in North-Rhine-Westphalia the status of religious community. By affirming the right of religious communities to provide religious instruction in State schools, the Court established that a federation could be recognised as a partner of the State in the organisation of religious instruction, provided it does not restrict itself to representing and coordinating the activities of its member associations, but rather pursues religious activities itself, its member associations constitute religious communities and its behaviour does not endanger the constitutional principles of the Basic Law.
The Administrative Court of Appeal must now rule on whether the Islamic Federation fills these requirements and can be recognised as a partner of the State in the instruction of Islam in State schools.

For further information, refer to the full text of this ruling on the Federal Court’s website ( in German).

  • February 2005 : Working towards an organisation that represents Muslims

In February 2005, the majority of Muslim federations in Germany, including Islamrat Für die BRD, Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (ZMD) and Verband Islamischer Kulturzentren (VIKZ), met in Hamburg to discuss common organisation structures to promote the State representation of Muslims. There is a committee that will be responsible for working out the structures and details of this new organisation which should eventually become the Muslim’s representative to the State on a Länder and national level.

D 5 April 2005    AMatthias Koenig

2004

Various debates over Germany. Contemporary issues are:
LER in Brandenburg
The question of the crucifix in public schools (including the case of Bavaria)
The teaching of Islam in public (...)

  • Various debates over Germany. Contemporary issues are:

- LER in Brandenburg
- The question of the crucifix in public schools (including the case of Bavaria)
- The teaching of Islam in public schools
- The issue of the Islamic headscarf in public schools instructors
- The status of public corporation law of religious minorities (Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses)

D 15 December 2004    AMatthias Koenig

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