Freedom of religion in Britain and Germany

After the monarchy, state-sponsored religion is one of the strangest customs I’ve had to adapt to in the UK (and Germany, the other European country that I’ve lived in for a number of years). In the UK I’ve already written about the somewhat insidious role of state religion, such as the way it dictates which schools your children will be admitted to; that 26 bishops sit ex officio in the House of Lords (though it should be mentioned that the other state religion, Finance, has its own peculiar kind of special representation in the Commons); and that non-Anglican foreigners who wish to marry in the UK require permission of the Home Office, for which they must pay a substantial fee. (This Anglican exception may now have been rescinded; I know there was pressure from the European Court of Human Rights.) All UK state schools are required — following a Blair-era edict — to have daily Christian prayer (unless they are state-sponsored non-Christian religious schools, another Blair novum), though that law is not always followed, particularly in secondary schools — see par. 141 of this Ofsted report.

Germany is a federation in most respects, with wide variation in religion and religiosity, but a requirement for church-approved religious education (of two flavours, Catholic and Protestant) in the schools is anchored in the constitution. The federal government collects tax on behalf of the churches. And the churches, which control a significant portion of the hospitals, among other businesses and institutions — are allowed to discriminate against their employees in ways that would be forbidden, and indeed morally condemned, by any other employer. A recent court decision in Germany concerns a 60-year-old pediatric social worker, who worked for the Catholic organisation Caritas. Shocked and appalled by the extent of child-abuse perpetrated and covered up by the Church, he officially left the Church. (In other countries it’s not clear how you would officially stop being Catholic, other than by joining another church, but in Germany you just stop paying tax and you’re out. Reassignment of your soul’s eternal fate follows in 4 to 6 weeks.)

So the Church, which knows how to respond to a major breach of moral and ethical norms, clearly couldn’t stand for the scandal of a social worker in their employ taking a public stand against sexual abuse of children. And while being Catholic was apparently not a requirement of the job to begin, the courts agreed that being an ex-Catholic is forbidden, particularly one whose break with the Church was provoked by something so unseemly as individual conscience.

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