Opinion: The state already plays a role in religion | Opinion | DW | 30.04.2016
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Opinion: The state already plays a role in religion

Christian Democrat faction leader Volker Kauder caused a stir when he told Berliner Zeitung that the state should monitor what goes on in mosques. The state takes a heavy hand with churches, DW's Felix Steiner writes.

Before newly appointed bishops in Germany enter office, they must call the premier of the state in which their diocese lies. With his left hand on the Bible, the new bishop must pledge an oath of allegiance to the state constitution. Procedures and oaths are clearly defined in concordats and state church contracts.

On the other hand, newly elected state premiers are not obligated to profess their faith to a bishop. A premier's faith is none of the church's business.


DW's Felix Steiner

What does that mean? The power struggle that persisted between religion and state over hundreds of years in Germany came to an end a long time ago: The state won. That is one of the essential characteristics of the modern era in Western Christian culture.

State and church, however, are not as strictly separated as often erroneously assumed. In fact, they're quite intermeshed. The state can object to bishop candidates whom officials view as problematic, for just one example. The state expects loyalty from the church and its staff members. In return, it grants the clergy a wealth of privileges: "Religion" is a subject in public schools, the state pays the bishops' salaries, and the state's tax authorities collect taxes for the church.

With this in mind, it would be difficult to say that Volker Kauder was calling for discrimination against Muslims when he suggested in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung that intelligence officials might monitor worship. Of course the state has the right to know what imams preach in mosques: Officials must be certain that the constitutional order of Germany is not being undermined.

In recent years, officials have questioned the oath of allegiance to the state for Catholic bishops. But the value of Germany's state-church law is suddenly clear: Bishops are liable for their priests, and internal church control mechanisms ensure the loyalty of the entire institution. This system works, and that is something positive.

A state-church religion?

If Islam really does belong to Germany, as Chancellor Angela Merkel claims, then the state would have to create a similar system of duty and loyalty for the growing number of mosques. The basic problem is that there is a lack of institutional contact. With whom would the German states conclude these agreements?

So, in the foreseeable future, every mosque community will have to be individually assessed - even if that is the part that is particularly disturbing about the proposal by the Bundestag member Kauder. Many people are familiar with images of Nazi intelligence officers or East German intelligence officers writing down sermons in churches. This has never been reported in the Federal Republic of Germany, likely because there has never been a reason to do so. Kauder's suggestion is still not a breach of the rights to religious freedom and worship as guaranteed by the German constitution. It is not a call to regulate the actions of the faithful, but those of their religious leaders, be they priests, pastors, imams or rabbis.

People who lived in the German dictatorships are repeatedly cited for their view that the obvious presence of the Gestapo or Stasi employees never harmed church services: The sermons were in fact better and shorter.

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