For Immediate Release
December 19, 2000
German high court defends rights of religious minorities
Today the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that a religion may not be denied the status of a corporation under Public Law based on a test of loyalty to the state.
This landmark decision from Germany’s highest court overturned the 1997 ruling by Berlin’s Federal Administrative Court that denied Jehovah’s Witnesses status as a corporation of Public Law because of alleged insufficient loyalty to the state. This lower court based its decision on the Witnesses’ nonparticipation in political elections. Two lower administrative courts had previously approved the Witnesses’ application.
With this decision in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Federal Constitutional Court established reasonable conditions for granting religious associations the rights of corporation under Public Law. Constitutional freedoms of worship, choice and expression were protected.
Don Adams, president of the international corporation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, welcomed the news: “The highest court in Germany today recognized the fundamental importance of freedom of worship for all religions. We're optimistic about the final outcome of this matter.”
Final word on the application is still forthcoming, as the Federal Constitutional Court remanded the case to the Berlin Federal Administrative Court for a new decision in harmony with the criteria in the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
The Federal Constitutional Court’s opinion emphasized the principles of separation of church and state as well as the equality of all religions. This decision should serve to promote tolerance toward religious minorities not only in Germany but also throughout Europe.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not new to struggles over freedom of worship. In past decades they resolutely withstood oppression from Stalin, Hitler, and Hirohito. In the United States, especially during the first half of the 20th century, they won numerous legal victories in the highest court of the land and thus defined and established civil rights and liberties that many citizens still enjoy today. There are over 165,000 Witnesses in Germany.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600: