Victory at Federal Constitutional Court
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES in Germany gained a landmark victory at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. They thus took an important step in connection with their recognition.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active in Germany for over 100 years. They survived bitter persecution at the hands of two 20th-century dictatorships—the National Socialists and the Communists. Since 1990, the Witnesses have sought to attain legal recognition as a corporation of public law. Following two favorable court verdicts and one reversal, the Witnesses appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court, which announced its ruling on December 19, 2000.
Unanimous Decision for Jehovah’s Witnesses
All seven justices of the court ruled in favor of the Witnesses. The judges overturned a 1997 judgment by the Federal Administrative Court and instructed that court to reconsider the application by the Witnesses.
The Federal Constitutional Court used the occasion to comment on the fundamental relationship between the State and religious groups. Basically, the status of a religion “is determined, not by its beliefs, but by its behavior.”
The court also observed that when Witnesses practice “Christian neutrality,” they do “not attack the principle of democracy” and do “not wish to replace democracy with another form of government.” Hence, nonparticipation in political elections should not count against the Witnesses in their claim for legal recognition.—John 18:36; Romans 13:1.
The court further noted that a believer—whether a Witness or someone of another faith—could at times find himself in a situation where the demands of the State and the requirements of his faith are at odds. Should the individual follow his conscience by “obeying the tenets of faith more than the law,” the State might view this as being justified and within the scope of religious freedom.—Acts 5:29.
The court ruling hit the headlines. There was hardly a newspaper in Germany that did not contain a report on the case. All major television and radio stations broadcast reports or interviews. Never before has the name Jehovah been given such wide publicity in Germany.
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AP Photo/Daniel Maurer