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Five facts about state and religion

Separate and yet partners: how the relationship between church and state is regulated in Germany.

Separation of state and religion
Separation of state and religion ©

Religions in Germany

In Germany, people can freely practice their faiths, regardless of which religion they belong to. Religion and state are separate. About every second person in Germany is a Christian. About five percent are Muslims and four percent belong to other religions. Thirty-six percent of the population, more than one in three, belong to no religion; an upward trend.

Separation of state and religion

The German state has committed itself in its constitution to treat religions and worldviews neutrally. It must not identify itself with any religious or ideological denomination. “Neutral”, however, does not mean that the state is opposed or indifferent to religions: it is the political consensus that religions contribute to the cohesion of society. The Federal Constitutional Court has therefore suggested that the state adopt a policy of “constructive neutrality” towards religions and world views.

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Holidays and religious education

“Constructive neutrality” means that the state and religions work in partnership in many areas. The state participates financially in hospitals and social institutions that are supported by religious communities. Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are protected by the Constitution; everyone has the day off and the shops are closed. In most federal states, students in state schools receive religious instruction and theologians study at state universities. Anyone who wants to become a teacher of religion or a professor of theology, however, needs the consent of his or her church.

Church tax

Germany is one of the few countries in the world to levy a church tax. This is how the churches finance their spending on the community. The tax offices collect the tax for the churches from their members. It amounts to eight or nine percent of the income tax.

Old agreements and new religious communities

Cooperation between the state and religious communities is regulated in the Basic Law and by agreements. Many provisions come from a time when the vast majority of Germans belonged to a church. They are therefore tailored to the Christian churches. For several years, the state has been trying to include Islam in the regulations. This is not easy, since Muslim communities are organized differently from the Christian churches and, for example, do not keep a record of their members.