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Germany

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion.  It also prohibits an official state church.  It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts.  The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools, and parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint.  It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and to provide religious services in the military, hospitals, and prisons.

A federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred, or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members.  Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.  It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare.  The prohibition and penalties apply equally to online speech.  In addition, the federal criminal code prohibits insulting a domestic religious organization, its institutions or practices, or the religious beliefs or world views of another person, if doing so could disturb the public peace.  Violations are punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison but are rarely prosecuted.  The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.  The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.

By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.”  Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.69 million).  Unlawful content includes actions illegal under the criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the COS – as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public.  The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups.  Several past court decisions ruled that the government must remain neutral toward a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.

Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register.  State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review.  Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.

A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution.  Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities.  Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes.  PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service.  PLC status also allows for benefits, including tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status that provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  In addition, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before 1919, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.

According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level.  Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals.  An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status.  The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.

Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and hair or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct.  The law specifies that if these symbols are of a religious nature, they may only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affecting trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of his official duties.”

According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply.  The states of Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony do not prohibit headscarves for teachers.  Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality.  Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg prohibit teachers from wearing full-face veils (i.e., niqabs or burqas).  Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but not for primary and secondary school teachers.  In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, judges and prosecutors may not wear religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($68) fine.

State law in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg forbids students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa).  This state ban on full-face covering does not apply in higher education.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males younger than six months.  After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.

All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools.  Religious communities with PLC status (or those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries.  Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary by state) express an interest.  Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam.  In most federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the EKD and the state, respectively.

Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states, those who opt out may substitute ethics courses.  State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements.  Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all states.

The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In May, then federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the Duesseldorf-based Muslim association Ansaar International and related suborganizations for financing terrorism and opposing the country’s constitutional order.  The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC, the state’s intelligence service) had been observing these organizations since 2013.  More than 1,000 officers were deployed in 10 states (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein) to enforce the ban.

In July, Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service announced that, based on new evidence, it would officially classify the IZH as an organization that is not independent, but rather one that “receives and depends on direct orders from Tehran.”  The IZH challenged this and previous claims in court; a verdict was pending at year’s end.  Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the IZH, which they said was an important Iranian regime asset.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the IZH, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements.

The OPC in Saxony continued to monitor two mosques it said were dominated by Salafists.

According to reports from the federal OPC and COS members, the federal OPC and the OPCs of six states – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt – continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating COS publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.  “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.

Groups under OPC observation continued to say that OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and that this constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.

In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Merkel expressed regret that expressions of public antisemitism had increased in the country and said the country would expend great strength to resist it.  At the presentation of a prize for tolerance in September, she stated that support for Jewish life was a special obligation of the government and that the country would not tolerate racism, antisemitism, or hate directed at a group of persons.  She also acknowledged a strong increase in antisemitic acts in 2020 and expressed concern that antisemitism was becoming bolder and more open than before.

In August, the federal government announced it would spend an additional 12 million euros ($13.61 million) on research networks focusing on antisemitism between 2021 and 2024, complementing the one billion euros ($1.13 billion) in spending already planned for 89 measures against right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism during that period.  Then Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the government wanted to invest millions in researching the causes of anti-Semitism in order “to efficiently fight” it, adding that there was reason to worry that the 2,351 cases of antisemitism reported in 2020 were “only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.”

In July, the Duisburg public prosecutor’s office charged six law enforcement officers with sedition and spreading symbols of unconstitutional organizations by participating in right-wing extremist chat groups with names such as “Alphateam” and “Kunte Kinte.”  According to the NRW Interior Ministry, officers exchanged anti-Muslim content in the groups, including praise for the 2019 anti-Muslim attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The groups had been found entered into an officer’s phone in September 2020.  Investigations against seven other accused members of the chat groups were dropped due to statutes of limitation or lack of sufficient evidence.  Investigations continued in 13 other cases, all involving law enforcement officers.  In September, the NRW Interior Ministry’s unit examining police right-wing extremism published its report of conclusions, in which it recommended 18 separate measures to fight right-wing extremism within the police.

In June, Frankfurt prosecutors launched investigations of 20 members of the city’s elite police special forces (SEK) for exchanging right-wing extremist material in a chat group, including material venerating Nazi organizations and expressing hate against minority groups.  On August 26, Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of SEK units.  Investigations against a majority of the officers continued at year’s end, but investigations of two superior officers for failing to report the activity were closed.  Frankfurt Police president Gerhard Bereswill said in September that parts of the city’s police force would be reformed to address antisemitic tendencies and other discriminatory attitudes within it.

In July, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, and other representatives of the Muslim community said that military chaplains were not available to the estimated 3,000 Muslim soldiers who “put their heads on the line for Germany.”  The Ministry of Defense said that the lack of an umbrella organization for Muslims with which the ministry could negotiate made it difficult to appoint imams as chaplains.

In June, the Bundeswehr (military) appointed its first military rabbi, the first of up to 10 rabbis scheduled to serve the 150-300 Jews in the armed forces.  The Central Council of Jews in Germany and leading politicians of all major parties welcomed the move.

According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Justice, the state employed four Muslim prison chaplains, all of whom are state employees and had to pass a multistep recruitment process.  The states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Bavaria also employed Muslim chaplains, according to media reports, and in Lower Saxony, 11 Muslim chaplains worked for the prison system on a freelance basis.

In May, the Stuttgart Administrative Court decided in favor of the Wuerttemberg EKD, ruling that the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions for areas with high infection rates did not apply to church funerals.  The EKD had argued in April that church funerals were religious services, not private events, and should therefore be exempt from the 30-person attendance limit mandated by the COVID-19 regulations.  The court also found that the federal regulation constituted an infringement on religious freedom.

Religious groups, including the Coordination Council of Muslims, whose members included the country’s largest Muslim organizations, expressed concern that authorities might restrict civil servants from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols after the law allowing such restrictions in some circumstances came into effect in July.

On March 22-23, then Chancellor Merkel and the minister-presidents (governors) of the 16 states decided the government would ask churches to cancel in-person Easter services on April 4 as part of heightened COVID-19 restrictions during a five-day “quiet period” of no in-person gatherings.  According to media reports, the Chancellor and minister-presidents did not consult with church leaders or government advisors on religious affairs before announcing the decision.  On March 24, following strong protests by the Catholic Church, the EKD, and business leaders, the federal government withdrew the plan for the quiet period.  The government, however, still encouraged churches to avoid in-person Easter services.

In April, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul suggested that religious congregations suspend in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The suggestion followed a COVID-19 outbreak at a church in Euskirchen.  Religious groups followed strict social distancing rules for in-person worship but also offered virtual and drive-in services.

Also in April, local officials and mayors across NRW encouraged Muslims to celebrate Ramadan virtually, as large gatherings were prohibited due to COVID-19 regulations.  To comply with social distancing regulations, many mosques offered in-person services for smaller numbers of participants, as well as online prayers.

In August, the NRW state government established a reporting office for antisemitic incidents that do not rise to the level of criminal charges.  The North Rhein State Association of Jewish Communities temporarily administered the office until the government could establish a new organization.

In March, the city of Cologne established a reporting and documentation office for antisemitic incidents at its National Socialist Documentation Center that it said would coordinate its efforts with similar institutions at the state and national level.

In April, the Hamburg government appointed Stefan Hensel, the local chair of the German Israeli Society (DIG), as the city-state’s first independent antisemitism commissioner.  Hensel’s three-year term began on July 1.  Hamburg’s largest Jewish congregation, led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, as well as the smaller Liberal Jewish Community, endorsed the appointment.  Hensel stated that he was committed to fighting both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adding that the city should appreciate Hamburg Jews as modern citizens.

Bremen remained the only state in the country without an antisemitism commissioner.  In previous years, the deputy chair of the Jewish community in Bremen said the community preferred to address antisemitism and other issues of concern in an existing forum that included the mayor and president of the legislature.

In August, the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced that the annual budget of the state’s antisemitism commissioner would be doubled to more than 2.2 million euros ($2.49 million).

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Criminal Police Office and the state Interior Ministry announced a new prevention program called “Safe in Religious Communities” aimed at improving communication between law enforcement agencies and religious communities, while giving community representatives tools to safely organize events and identify extremism.  Police officers at regional headquarters were trained to act as liaisons to the Jewish and Muslim communities.  According to a press release by the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, more religious communities might be added at a later date.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated the country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm.  According to Strobl, the police rabbis would serve as counselors and points of contact for prospective and current police officers, as well as for community members.

In September, the Central Archive for the History of Jews in Germany reopened at a new location in Heidelberg.  The federal Ministry of the Interior funded the archive with 900,000 euros ($1.02 million) annually.

On October 7, the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in which they said the Bundestag had infringed upon their fundamental rights when it passed a resolution criticizing the BDS as antisemitic in 2019.

In May, the Moenchengladbach District Court of Appeals overturned a man’s eight-month suspended sentence imposed by a lower court for distributing the antisemitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online, and instead fined him 900 euros ($1,000).  The court stated it found the defendant’s claims that he had shared the manifesto only to mock its contents to be credible.

In May, the NRW Higher Administrative Court in Muenster rejected an exemption for a woman from Duesseldorf who wanted to drive a car while wearing a niqab.  The court cited the law prohibiting drivers from fully covering their face except for the eyes.  The decision could not be appealed.

According to a 2020 survey of state-level education ministries, the most recent available, more than 900 schools in the country offered Islamic religious instruction.  Almost 60,000 students took part in Islamic religious instruction in the school year 2019-20, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year.  Since 2017-18, approximately 35 schools had added Islamic religious instruction.

In May, the NRW Ministry of Education created a new commission to cooperate on Islamic religious instruction in public schools.

In July, the Wiesbaden Administrative Court ruled the Hesse state government had unlawfully ended cooperation with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) on Islamic religious education in public schools in April 2020.  The state government appealed the decision in August; the appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In the 2021-22 school year, 364 schools in Bavaria began offering Islamic religion courses, similar to existing religion courses on Christianity and Judaism.  All pupils in Bavaria must receive instruction in one of these religions, or an ethics course if courses in their religion are not available.  Approximately 100 Muslim instructors were expected to teach approximately 17,000 Muslim pupils, although demand for Islamic religion courses was much higher than 17,000, according to parents, schools, and education ministry officials.  Muslim communities complained that the state government, not the religious community, set the curriculum of the course.

In October, Saxony-Anhalt also began offering pupils Judaism instruction for the first time as a pilot project at an elementary school in Magdeburg.  Fourteen pupils enrolled in the course.

In April, the Mainz Administrative Court ruled that the 2019 closure of Rhineland-Palatinate’s only Islamic daycare center, the al-Nur center in Mainz, was lawful.  State authorities had closed the center, saying it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.

In May, the Sunni School Council Foundation, which oversees Islamic religious education in Baden-Wuerttemberg public schools, rejected the teaching license of Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, head of the Islamic Theology department at the University of Education in Freiburg.  While the foundation cited missing credentials as a reason for its decision, critics, including members of the Muslim community, academics, and politicians, accused it of trying to silence a prominent voice of a liberal interpretation of Islam.  The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs defended the decision, which could be appealed.

The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups.  Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government contributed 13 million euros ($14.74 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage and support integration and social work.  In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international group researching the history and culture of German Jewry.

State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues.  The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries.  State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

In March, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an agreement to provide transitional payments to surviving spouses of Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been receiving a pension from the government.

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government signed a contract with the state’s Jewish communities to protect Jewish institutions and combat antisemitism.  The contract stipulated the state government would provide funds to protect Jewish facilities totaling one million euros ($1.13 million) in 2021 and 1.17 million euros ($1.33 million) in each of the ensuing three years, as well as 200,000 euros ($227,000) yearly for three years for the construction of a Jewish academy.

On April 22, the Dresden city council voted to establish a museum on the history of Jewish life in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia and in Poland and the Czech Republic.

After many years of renovation, the Goerlitz synagogue reopened on July 12.  Consecrated 110 years earlier, it had survived the Nazi pogrom of November 1938 (also referred to as Kristallnacht) and been neglected during the German Democratic Republic period.  The federal government supported the construction with 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million).

Construction of Frankfurt’s Jewish Academy began in September.  The academy, due to open in 2024, would function, according to sponsors, as an intellectual center of Jewish life, philosophy, and culture.  The costs of construction, estimated at 34.5 million euros ($39.12 million), was to be shared by the federal government, the state of Hesse, the city of Frankfurt, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

In September, the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community signed an extension to the contract that governs cooperation between them.  The contract stipulated the city would provide an additional one million euros ($1.13 million) for the protection and security of the Jewish community, starting with the 2022 fiscal year.

According to media reports and the Humanistic Union, an organization that describes its mission as working to protect and enforce civil rights, including the right to free development of the personality, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 581 million euros ($658.73 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.  The Humanistic Union advocates the abolition of state church privileges such as faith-based religious education as a regular school subject, collection of church taxes, and other financial aid to religious groups.

On June 16, the country’s first publicly funded Islamic seminary opened in Osnabrueck with a class of 50 students.  Five Muslim federations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Muslim Community of Lower Saxony, founded the seminary.  A commission of their representatives sets the curriculum, which is taught in German.  The federal and Lower Saxony governments committed to provide 5.5 million euros ($6.24 million) in funding to the school over five years.

The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country.  The dialogue’s stated aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and – in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country – further develop partnerships between the government and Muslim organizations.  Among the specific outcomes of the dialogue were the April publication of a large study on Muslim life in the country that included new official estimates of the size of the Muslim population, the first in years; a May conference on young Muslims’ perspectives on issues affecting Islam in the country; the establishment of an Islamic seminary in Osnabrueck in June, including government funding for it; and support for efforts to inform the Muslim community about the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship for the year ending March 31.

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