Preachers of religious hatred, most notably imams, frequently escape prosecution for their "opinions," but what can German prosecutors do when Christian preachers do the same?
Do preachers of hatred belong in front of these judges?
If Germans were polled as to whom they would think of when the term "preacher of hate" were mentioned, then you most likely would hear the name Metin Kaplan, 'the Caliph of Cologne.' His 20 years of asylum in Germany were filled with constant frays with the Interior Ministry. The most well-known was his call for the death of a rival for which he was finally indicted in Germany. In October, German authorities deported him to Turkey where he is being tried for treason.
Yet Christian clergy are by no means exempt from such unloving behavior. A case of a preacher insulting the Islam prophet Mohammed in Sweden in March has shown that Christian leaders have no qualms about attacking the Muslim faith. In a high-profile sermon, the celebrity Pentecostal preacher Runar Sögaard called Mohammed "a confused pedophile."
Metin Kaplan had long been a thorn in the side of the German Interior Ministry
Swedish Muslims responded with outrage. Sögaard was placed under police protection after death threats appeared in the Internet. One radical Islamist told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that he would shoot the preacher if he saw him, even if he was under major police protection. The Swedes were reminded of the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November and the ensuing religious violence in the Netherlands.
Swedish authorities did not press charges against the popular preacher. But what would happen in Germany if a Christian preacher would incite the masses with such inflammatory remarks?
The legal situation in Germany is murky. Prosecutors would have a difficult, if not impossible, time in bringing up the charge of "incitement of the masses" because according to legal experts, a speaker must directly insult the believers of a religion. A verbal attack against a religious prophet would not suffice. Even a charge of slander would not have promising prospects.
"Legally, that would be to 'slander an individual' within a collective, here under the category 'Mohammed'," said professor of criminal law Knut Amelung from Dresden. "That doesn't fall under the auspices of German law."
Charges of "insulting" possible
Not an uncommon picture in Sweden: An unidentified Muslim woman waiting to vote at a polling station in Stockholm
Where German authorities would have a better likelihood of success is under the charge of "insulting of religious confession." The German penal code stipulates that a public attack against a religious community that then would disturb the general peace could be followed by legal action.
Although Islam does not enjoy the same legal status as the main Christian religions in Germany, it does enjoy the same rights -- and protection.
"Under article four of the German constitution, the practice of Islam falls under freedom of religion just like all other religions," stated Amelung. "Technically, Islam has the same rights: to be respected and protected as all other religions."
Reactions from Muslim organizations
The murder of van Gogh and the calls for killing Sögaard in Sweden make it clear that insults towards religions cut deeply -- and emotionally.
Nadeem Elyas (photo), head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, believes his fellow Muslims would have to remain cool if something similar were to happen in Germany.
"Muslims must be certain that such cases would be prosecuted," he said. "What we definitely don't want are death threats or a new round of incitements -- from our side. If that were to happen, we would only be doing our opponents a favor."