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Germany: Legal Issues Concerning Islam Discussed at Jurists’ Convention

(Oct. 18, 2010) The 68th German Convention of Jurists was held in Berlin on September 21 – 24 (Deutscher Juristentag (Sept. 24, 2010), One of the topics of the Convention was “Church-State Relations in an Era of New Conflicts over Religion” (68. Deutscher Juristentag, Berlin 1860 2010 Beschlüsse 12-14,
(last visited Oct. 15, 2010)). In fact, the discussion focused on Islam, and, in particular, whether reform in church-state relations was necessary to cope with the developments arising from the residence of more than four million Muslims in Germany (Für Islam-Unterricht und islamische Studiengänge, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sept. 24, 2010, at 2).

The discussion culminated in a vote on 19 questions that probed the desirability of changes in the current system of church and state relations. The overwhelming majority of participants opted for retaining the current system, under which the state exercises benign neutrality towards religious communities for as long as they refrain from state-endangering activities. In addition, the participants favored efforts to facilitate the teaching of Islam in public schools, in the same manner that religious education is provided by other religious communities.

The current parameters on church-state relations are set by the Basic Law, German Constitution of 1949 (Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, May 23, 1949, Bundesgesetzblatt 1, as amended, translation at
). Article 4 guarantees the freedom of religion, while article 7 permits religious education in public schools. Article 140 incorporates articles 136 through 139 and article 141 of the Weimar Constitution of 1918 (Verfassung des deutschen Reichs, Aug. 11, 1919, Reichsgesetzblatt 1383, translation at into the current constitutional framework. Article 137 of the Weimar Constitution recognizes the major religious denominations in Germany as corporations of public law, a status that grants them various advantages. Other religious communities also can obtain this status if their organization and number of members indicate that the community will be long-lasting.

This German system does not mandate the separation of church and state. Instead, cooperation between church and state is acceptable in matters of religious education, charity, and social services, while freedom from governmental interference is guaranteed in matters of religious doctrine and practice (Michael Sachs, Grundgesetz 2403 (2007)). It is difficult for Islam to be recognized as a governmental partner in this system, because Islam does not have a hierarchical structure that would provide a representative capable of negotiating with the German state governments on issues related to religious education and incorporation (Christian Walter, Neue Religionskonflikte und Staatliche Neutralität, Deutsches Verwaltungsblatt, 2010, 993; Michael Kloepfer, Der Islam in Deutschland, Die öffentliche Verwaltung, 2006, 45). Nevertheless, German experts are hopeful that progress can be made in the resolution of these problems, so as to promote the integration of the Muslim population in Germany (Für Islam-Unterricht und islamische Studiengänge, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sept. 24, 2010, at 2).