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Religions and schooling

Religious instruction in state schools

In Germany, there is a strong State presence in the educational system. According to the Constitution, state schools are the rule while private schools are considered exceptions (art. 7 (4 and 5) (...)

In Germany, there is a strong State presence in the educational system. According to the Constitution, state schools are the rule while private schools are considered exceptions (art. 7 (4 and 5) GG). That is why there are fewer private confessional schools in Germany than in other countries, like France for example. Private elementary schools are only permitted if there are specific religious or ideological requirements and if a corresponding public school does not already exist.

In state schools, the members of religious communities have the right to participate in religious instruction and the content is the responsibility of the religious communities (art. 7 (3) GG). Religious instruction is a part of the regular school curriculum. Exceptions exist for the Bremen and Berlin Länder(article 141 GG) as well as for several state schools that are explicitly non-confessional and secular.

The decision regarding the participation in religious instruction is the responsibility of the parents, and after the age of 14 the students themselves may make this decision (article 7 (2) GG).

D 19 July 2012    AMichael Heinig

School and religion in the GDR between 1949 and 1989

Though the Basic Law aimed at the democratisation of public teaching, it did not stipulate its secularisation. In the GDR, however, the policy of secularism initiated by the socialist Government (...)

Though the Basic Law aimed at the democratisation of public teaching, it did not stipulate its secularisation. In the GDR, however, the policy of secularism initiated by the socialist Government covered all the public spheres, including school. Therefore the 1949 Constitution suppressed the religious education from the frequent teaching subjects, allowing the religious communities to teach religion in public facilities only apart from school hours. Since 1967, the religious teaching does not appear in the Constitution any longer and Churches present religion lessons in their own facilities.
When the GDR implements in 1954 the Jugendweihe as an initiation rite of Atheism, the Lutheran Church declared it was incompatible with the Protestant confirmation and asked the youth to pick their side. However, those who did not take part in the Jugendweihe met considerable obstacles either at school or in their professional lives, which means that the opposite strategies of the State and the Lutheran Church forced the youth as well as their parents to make a choice between the studies or the public affirmation of their beliefs and of their belonging to the Lutheran Church.

Source: HENKYS, Reinhard, "Die Kirchen im SED-Staat zwischen Anpassung und Widerstand", in Jürgen WEBER (dir.), Der SED-Staat: Neues über eine vergangene Diktatur. Munich, 1994, p. 203.

D 19 July 2012    AMatthias Koenig AMiriam Schader

Debates around religious education in Brandenburg and in Berlin

After the fall of the Berlin wall, all the new Länder except Brandenburg and Berlin reintroduced religious education in the curriculum as a regular teaching subject. Based on the Bremen clause, (...)

After the fall of the Berlin wall, all the new Länder except Brandenburg and Berlin reintroduced religious education in the curriculum as a regular teaching subject. Based on the Bremen clause, the Land of Brandenburg introduced a new subject, the LER (Lebensgestaltung–Ethik–Religionskunde / life-ethic-religion) in the Law on public teaching (including § 9 and § 11) instead of religious education. The LER consists in moral teaching but also in the objective presentation of all the main religions. It is a regular and compulsory subject but parents or legal tutors are allowed to ask for their child to be exempted from such lessons provided "they have a good reason for it" § 141). At first, the Law allowed the religious communities to present these lessons in the facilities of public schools apart from the normal school hours.
Though the percentage of people belonging to a Church was merely of 24% in the new Länder in 1994, this regulation was the object of many debates and led to a long juridical litigation. In last instance, the Constitutional Court suggested a judiciary compromise maintaining the LER, with the obligation for the Land of Brandenburg to co-finance religions lessons and to integrate them into the normal school hours. While the new Law on public teaching in Brandenburg of 2002 eventually covered all these elements, a new appeal was brought before the Constitutional Court but was eventually rejected in January 2004 (BVerfG, 1 BvR 1406/02 of January 8 2004).
Berlin East adopted the regulation in force in the West, in which religious education is not part of the regular subjects but all the communities recognised by the Land in a position to present such lessons and having a minimum of pupils are allowed to present two hours of religious education a week in school facilities and during the normal school hours. The parents or legal tutors decide for their child to follow such lessons or not (Berlin Law on public teaching , §13 Schulgesetz).
After a long period of debates, it was decided that pupils in classes 7 to 10 have to attend a secular teaching of moral education (Ethik) since the beginning of the school year 2006-2007 even if they already follow religious lessons.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the liberal party (FDP) and some parents of Berliner pupils had claimed for the children to have the right to choose between the secular teaching of moral education and religious lessons, a claim which was rejected by the Senate (Parliament of the Land of Berlin) and a constitutional appeal against the introduction of the secular teaching as a regular and compulsory subject was rejected by the Constitutional Court in July 2006 ( BVerfG, 1 BvR 1017/06 of July 14 2006, § 1 – 29).

HECKEL, Martin, Religionsunterricht in Brandenburg. Zur Regelung des Religionsunterrichtes und des Faches Lebensgestaltung - Ethik - Religionskunde (LER). Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1998. LOTT, Jürgen, Wie hast du’s mit der Religion? Das neue Schulfach Lebensgestaltung –Ethik-Religionskunde (LER) und die Werteerziehung in der Schule. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlag-Haus, 1998.

D 19 July 2012    AMatthias Koenig AMiriam Schader

Introduction of Islamic religious instruction

Islamic religious teaching in state schools
Various pilot experiments to establish the teaching of Islam in state schools - generally in Turkish - have been conducted in different Länder since (...)

Islamic religious teaching in state schools

Various pilot experiments to establish the teaching of Islam in state schools - generally in Turkish - have been conducted in different Länder since the end of the 1980s. They have often been conducted in liaison with the Turkish State, which was originally the privileged interlocutor of the German public authorities, but public authorities have expressed their wish to be as free as possible of foreign influence. This resulted in an important step being taken in 2004.

After obtaining the status of religious community in several Länder (Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Hesse) in late 2004, the Alevi community of Germany (Alevitische Gemeinde Deutschlands) was able to start up courses in (Alevi) Islamic religion in several primary schools in these Länder. In accordance with Article 7-3 of the Basic Law (see Religious education in public schools – juridical dispositions), this instruction is placed under the authority of the education ministers concerned, in agreement with the Alevi community in Germany. The experiment - introduced in 2006 in Baden-Württemberg, then in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Hesse - remains however very marginal. Indeed, Alevis are a minority in Germany (they account for between 12-13% of Muslims there). It is estimated that courses in Alevi religion are delivered to approximately 500 Alevi students, while there are between 700,000 and 900,000 Muslim students in Germany.

From the public authorities’ viewpoint, one of the main obstacles to establishing courses in Islam is the lack of a representative Muslim interlocutor. In this respect, a page has recently been turned. The German Conference on Islam (Deutsche Islamkonferenz), created in 2006 by the Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, results from the latter’s desire to have a structure emerge that is representative of Muslims. It groups together five Muslim organisations, representing approximately 15% of the Muslim population of Germany. In 2008, the Deutsche Islamkonferenz adopted the principle of introducing lessons on Islam into state schools, then to be extended over the whole of Germany according to the conditions laid down in Article 7-3 of the Basic Law. North Rhine-Westphalia was the first Land to have introduced Islamic religious instruction into 44 primary schools for the 2012 school year, delivered by some 40 teachers. An independent board (Beirat), responsible for the recruitment of teachers of Islam and the curriculum content, has been created for this purpose. It includes eight experts in Islamic theology and teaching of religious education: four of them were selected by Islamic organisations and the other four by the Ministry of Education in agreement with Islamic associations. In 2012-2013, this denominational course involved between 2,000-2,500 students in North Rhine-Westphalia. The lack of teachers, as well as an absence of textbooks and curriculum, could, however, undermine the implementation of Islamic religious instruction. This is anyway just the beginning of the general introduction of courses in Islam into secondary schools in the different Länder.

For further information, see Focus, Süddeutsche, DIK.

Implementing courses in Islamic theology in public universities

Linked to the question of how to organise Islamic instruction in schools, the issue of training Muslim “masters” (imams and teachers of religion) has also fallen to public authorities. A decisive step was taken with the establishment of institutes of Islamic theology at three German universities (Osnabrück, Münster and Tübingen) from the beginning of the 2011 academic year.

For further information, see Süddeutsche.

D 19 July 2012    ASylvie Toscer-Angot

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