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Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups, and authorities shut down a Berlin mosque for what they said were its links to terrorism. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, particularly for teachers and courtroom officials. North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) became the last state to grant the Jehovah’s Witnesses public law corporation (PLC) status, which makes religious groups eligible for public subsidies and other benefits. While some senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some politicians from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements. A report commissioned by parliament found Jews felt increasingly threatened and recommended establishing a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism. Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would establish an anti-Semitism commissioner to take office in early 2018, the first such state-level position in the country, and federal government officials indicated support for appointing one at the federal level. The interior minister said the burqa contradicted European custom. The government accepted the definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

There were reports of multiple anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal attacks, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts. In September migrants stabbed a Christian convert, and in January a court sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his Christian roommate in 2016 after expressing regret he could not kill more Christians. Jews expressed security concerns after widespread protests in December, some of which were anti-Semitic. In response to the protests, senior government officials condemned anti-Semitism, and some politicians warned Muslims not to engage in it. A survey by the Universities of Bielefeld and Frankfurt found three quarters of Jews felt anti-Semitism had increased. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), most anti-Semitic incidents were carried out by right-wing groups, but a study by Indiana University and the University of Potsdam for the American Jewish Committee (AJC) pointed to the potential for anti-Semitism among Muslim migrants. Another cited anti-Semitism among Muslim students in Berlin schools. In March two men attacked and kicked a Muslim girl, and a speaker at a protest against a mosque called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile. A European Union (EU) survey reported 16 percent of Muslims said they had experienced religious discrimination during the previous five years. There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and to protest radical Islam. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to oppose the COS and some other religious groups publicly.

The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts. Embassy representatives met regularly with the Commissioner for Relations with Jewish Organizations and anti-Semitism Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). In February the Charge d’Affaires hosted a gathering of 100 religious, community, and government leaders to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and condemn anti-Semitism. The embassy also hosted a meeting with members of the diplomatic community to review best practices in efforts to promote religious freedom. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.6 million (July 2017 estimate). Unofficial estimates and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 30 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 27 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches. Other Protestant denominations (including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians) combined account for less than 1 percent of the population. Orthodox Christians represent almost 3 percent of the population.

According to government estimates, 5.5 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 65 percent is Sunni, 12.5 percent Alevi, and 5.6 percent Shia; the remainder identifies simply as “Muslim.” According to intelligence officials, there are approximately 11,000 Salafist Muslims in the country. According to the Ministry of the Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees immigrated from predominately Muslim countries. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 250,000, and the religious NGO REMID at 100,000. According to REMID, groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (40,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); Sikhs (15,000); and COS (5,000-10,000). Approximately 36 percent of the population either have no religious affiliation or are members of unrecorded religious groups.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future