“German state-church law has proven its worth”

This Wednesday, former federal interdiction judge Paul Kirchhof turns 75. In the interview, he talks about the relationship between state and church in Germany and how to deal with Islam, among other things.

CBA: Professor Kirchhof, German law on the proscription of religion – formerly state church law – dates back to the beginning of the Weimar Republic. Is it still up to date?

Kirchhof: German state-church law has proven itself in its basic concerns. It excludes a state church and separates the tasks of state and church. At the same time, it regulates good neighborliness, in which the state leaves open the question of religious truth in order to enable peaceful coexistence of all religions and worldviews. The law expects the churches to answer the religious questions that move people.

CBA: How do you think the relationship between church and state will develop in a society that is less and less Christian??

Churchyard: The state and the church have a similar view of humanity, which grants each person individual dignity and the ability to be free. The state ensures the external order of freedom. The Church gives people an inner standard, a sensitive conscience, on how to exercise their freedom responsibly. The more this responsibility for freedom grows, the less the state has to legally regulate and enforce. In the future, the state and the churches will increasingly work together to strengthen and renew the inner commitment to responsible freedom.

CBA: How should the churches behave here? What role should they play in society: get more involved or confine themselves to purely matters of faith?

Kirchhof: Churches must increasingly communicate their message in dialogue through the persuasiveness of their values and goals, rethinking and renewing their concerns in a way that is appropriate to the present day. They will be able to assess the thinking on fundamental questions of community coexistence in current day politics and influence it in public debate.

CBA: The proportion of Muslims is increasing. Since they are not corporately organized, their associations are not compatible with our law on the proscription of religion. Do we have to adapt this right to the new situation?

Kirchhof: The cooperation of Christians and Muslims in Germany is made more difficult by the fact that Muslims do not yet have the legal status of our religious associations. Therefore, they cannot be a constant interlocutor in organizational terms. For cooperation, especially in schools, hospitals, the armed forces and social institutions, the state should make offers that also give Islam incentives to encounter the state as a constant partner in dialogue and contract.

CBA: How much should our law and also society take Islam into consideration?

Kirchhof: Each religion is allowed to develop and live its own forms, rites and customs according to the principle of individual religious freedom and church autonomy. The prerequisite is that the core standards of the Basic Law – peacefulness, freedom of every human being, equal rights for men and women, respect for the law – remain a matter of course.

In doing so, the state must preserve its identity in its personnel, its manifestations and its institutions, and also need not question its evolved culture – including Christian holidays, cultural symbols and signs. Based on these differences, Christianity and Islam seek the same one God.

CBA: The requirement to replace state benefits has been on the statute book for 99 years, but it has not been implemented. From your point of view, in view of full state coffers, should the replacement be tackled now?

Kirchhof: If the state currently co-finances certain church officials, sacred buildings, and also charitable and diaconal institutions, this corresponds to the idea of the constitutional guarantee of state services based on special legal titles. These were originally conceived as a compensation for secularization and expropriation, but in the course of development they have acquired a more modern content corresponding to this. This system of state benefits should be continued.

CBA: The cross-camp majority that brought about the law on "marriage for all" in the last legislative period will also be possible in the future on other ies, such as the ban on abortion advertising in Section 219 of the German Penal Code or euthanasia. Is Germany on the way to becoming a different republic?

Kirchhof: Our present expects continuity in established and proven constitutional principles. This applies to the guarantee of the family as a community of parents and children and to the protection of life at the beginning and end of human existence.

Digital media and an anonymous financial market endanger the principle of responsible freedom. Global economic activity, machine production, distribution and debt policies weaken the binding nature of law. Nevertheless, I am confident that we will succeed here in renewing the idea of responsible freedom, of performance and honorary office, of selflessness and self-realization, of the common good and justice, and in consolidating them as principles for the future.

CBA: You are now turning 75. When you look back on the last 25 to 50 years – has society developed in a good direction or does the development rather worry you??

Kirchhof: When I look back on the last 50 years, I feel a great sense of gratitude to have experienced the peace and legal high culture of the Basic Law in Germany. I trust in our school and university system, which is capable of development, our Christian ideals, and our ability to observe, understand, and want to fathom the world over and over again. And my experience with today’s young people is that they are justified in trusting in the freedom of their will and ability.

The interview was conducted by Gottfried Bohl.

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