Church/state Separation in Germany - for Now This Wall Stays Up

By Cohen, Edmund D. | Free Inquiry, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Church/state Separation in Germany - for Now This Wall Stays Up


Cohen, Edmund D., Free Inquiry


In a period when church/state separation in the United States is being eroded, it is heartening to read of a landmark church and state case in another country where the highest court acts on principle and hands down an unpopular decision. On August 10, 1995, the German Federal Constitutional Court made public its ruling striking down a provision of the Bavarian State Educational Code that called for the display of a crucifix in every public school classroom. In a country written off by American Christian fundamentalist missionaries as hopelessly post-Christian, this decision caused a furor.

In 1987, six-year-old Elina Seler was enrolled by her parents for her first day of school in Schwandorf, northern Bavaria. The Selers are adherents of Rudolf Steiner's spiritualistic philosophy, "Anthroposophy," and Elina had not been raised on Catholic lore as Bavarian children normally are. Mr. Seler described Elina's first day of school this way: "My daughter was forced to look up at an eighty centimeter high naked, blood encrusted dead man that hung right in her face."

Having never become desensitized to the gory imagery of the Crucifixion, little Elina was terrified. Mr. Seler complained about the crucifix, as twenty or so other Bavarian parents have done every year. Instead of issuing the usual flat refusal, the school offered to substitute a plain, Protestant-style cross with no corpus for the crucifix in Elina's classroom. The Selers took all three of their children out of school in protest, relenting only when the authorities threatened to prosecute them for truancy. Their legal complaint challenging the crucifix was decided against them in the Bavarian state courts in 1991. They appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court.

The Federal Constitutional Court held that "the introduction of a cross or crucifix into the classrooms of a compulsory-attendance nonparochial school violates Article 4 Section 1 of the Basic Law."(1) The court went on to explain that the essence of the violation consists of forcing an individual to have contact with the devotional paraphernalia of another religion, and implied that all the crucifixes in public school classrooms in Bavaria would have to be taken down. The decision also spoke of protection of minorities.

The decision prompted a torrent of extravagant rhetoric - a veritable field day for political posturing - on the part of conservative political leaders. They seemed unable to understand how the crucifix could signify something banefully different to some people than it signifies to them. Chancellor Helmut Kohl - also chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Party - described the decision as "incomprehensible." According to him, the decision calls upon society to dispense with a symbol standing for all the positive "values of our western civilization."

Others complained that for dissidents and freethinkers to resort to the courts to force the crucifixes to be taken down amounts to failure by them to appreciate and reciprocate the tolerance accorded them in Germany. These critics point out the folkloric connotation that Catholic paraphernalia has in Bavaria. Crucifixes are widely displayed in a purely decorative way there. It seems that Catholic conservatives in Germany hold the crucifixes to be vitally important, even while criticizing their antagonists for taking a strong stand on such a trivial issue. Still others compared the ruling of the Constitutional Court to the forcible replacement of the crucifixes with pictures of Hitler during the Third Reich.(2) The chief editor of Die Welt, a leading national right-leaning newspaper, was hastily fired for writing an editorial praising the court's decision. A member of the Bavarian State Parliament from the Green Party(3) explained, "The cross is the raw nerve."

The resemblance of all this to commonplace political posturing in the United States is remarkable, considering how different the backgrounds of the two countries are. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Church/state Separation in Germany - for Now This Wall Stays Up
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.