German Law on Religions and Churches

Canon law and rights of religious and ideological communities in Germany

In Germany, religious and ideological communities are placed under the special fundamental rights protection of Article 4 of the German constitution. Not only the Christian churches, mainly the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, but also communities of the world's great religions like Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism and smaller religious communities like Bahai and Jehovah´s Witnesses have developed under this protective umbrella. This great variety ensures that, in Germany, everyone can find his or her spiritual home.

Charity status and tax-exemption for religious activities in Germany

The German government protects churches and other religious communities not only by granting freedom of religion. In fact, government legislation provides for numerous special provisions and benefits for religious and ideological communities. The best known and most important among these is the granting of the status as a charitable and tax-exempt organization.

As a charity recognized by the German tax authorities, a religious organization can operate without being liable to most taxes (like corporate income tax, trade tax, real estate tax, etc.). In addition it is allowed to issue donation receipts. Members and sponsors can hence profit from tax-deductibility of their donations and membership fees.

The church as a corporation under public law

The possibility of obtaining charity status is, in principle, open to any religious organization regardless of whether it is incorporated as a

In addition, any religious or ideological community has the unique option to obtain the status of a corporation under public law (Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts). In such a case, they have the same legal status as the well-known great Christian churches in Germany.

Such corporation has far-reaching possibilities: It may, for example, levy its own church tax through the Fiscal Office subject to the German church tax law. In addition, thanks to its own legislative powers, it may issue regulations on church membership, create its own official posts and regulate its renumeration and social security within the framework of its own church servant law.

German church status provides numerous advantages

In addition, religious communities which have been granted church status as a corporation under public law benefit from numerous special advantages. For example, the German Works Constitution Act and the laws on employee co-determination and workers' representation do not apply. Within the scope of the church labor law, religious communities in Germany are, in fact, entitled to issue their own law on employee representation. In addition, religious communities may generally claim their own feasts (holidays) subject to the law governing work on public holidays. In such cases, schools and employers normally have to release the members for attending worship services.

In addition, religious communities may have their members hold religious classes, provided they have a qualification as a teacher. In this way they can influence the religious, cultural and political education of pupils and students.

German church law is fragmented and complex

In Germany, laws applying to religions and/or churches are not compiled in one code. In fact, there exist numerous special provisions in many individual laws as well as case law.

No matter whether you wish to found a new religious community or church or whether it has existed for years: Our experts in the law on religions and church law can advise you comprehensively ensuring that your religious group can maximize its benefits from statutory advantages.

Your German church law attorney

Your contact on all aspects of German church law and the law on religions are Attorney Johannes Fein (certified tax law specialist) and Attorney Benjamin Kirschbaum. The easiest way to reach us is by e-mail (info@winheller.com) or phone (+49 (0)69 76 75 77 80). Please do not hesitate to contact us. We are delighted to assist.

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