Inevitable Collisions Between State and Religion
In terms of religion v. state, contemporary political science offers generally two approaches towards concepts of states: EITHER the dominating neutral state has to create room for the religious beliefs of its citizens OR a dominantly religious state employs subordinated state institutions. Examples for the first concept are pretty much all modern western nations, with separation of powers and neutral state institutions. Examples for the latter include Saudi Arabia or the Iran, where religion is the dominant source and origin of the state. These state’s institutions are often merely means to facilitate the state’s function on an administrative level. So depending on whether or not religion or state neutrality is the dominant pattern, the other is second to the above named principle.
Now what’s interesting to observe are the frictions in this concept, i.e. the intersecting parts.
Problems usually arise where the spheres tend to overlap. For instance, in Germany, if you work for the church, employees need to have a “special” loyalty towards their employers. This “special” loyalty has been subject of disputes before the courts time and again. One of many noteworthy rulings deals with Germany’s policy of treating all religious communities in Germany equally and, if suitable, to grant the status of being a public corporation (“Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts”). Being officially recognized as a public corporation by the German state entails tax exempt status and numerous other privileges for religious groups, which is why it is generally aspired by religious groups, for instance by Germany’s Jehovah's Witnesses.
Leipzig’s very own Federal Administrative Court has been central to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ attempts to gain said status (official ruling by Germany’s Federal Administrative Court on February 1, 2006, notified under the document number Az. BVerwG 7 B 80.05). The City of Berlin had thwarted previous attempts by the Jehovah's Witnesses to gain the precious status of a public corporation (a process that had been going on since the mid-90s). The Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to participate in political elections, which was interpreted by Berlin as a lack of loyalty to the state and thus as lacking a prerequisite to obtaining the status of a public corporation. The decision by Leipzig’s judges, however, rejected Berlin’s accusation and ended the more than twelve year long legal dispute in the favor of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The state granting religious groups as public corporations is particularly interesting, since maintaining the principle of equal treatment and secularity towards all religious groups is virtually impossible to achieve. Like political parties in Germany, the big churches either receive direct financial resources from the state for charities and occupational health care or indirect financial advantages by being exempt (partially) from taxes and other duties. I wonder how atheists feel about this…
So in one way or another, the German state is financing religion.
Another common field of dispute is the education of children that are member of a particular religion (think of the back-then controversy of Amish children being taught at home). Here, again, different interests collide and usually there is no amicable solution.
The paradigm of an ideally secular state meets the reality of an everyday life impacted by religious penetration. Now, a third sphere – the respective culture – becomes a negotiator between these two spheres and their untainted concepts. In addition, this perpetual negotiation between the two ideal spheres is supplemented by a particularly interesting second layer: the two extreme poles on the spectrum “private” and “public.”
Ideally, religious aspects are a private matter and the neutral state is of public concern. But of course, in reality, both ends of the spectrum mix.
Here is the list of requirements by the City of Berlin to gain the status of a public corporation: http://www.berlin.de/sen/kultur/bkrw/koerperschaften.html
Here you can take a closer look at the financial entanglement between state and religion: KORSO (coordinating secular organizations in Germany) http://www.korso-deutschland.de