Some state governments and federal agencies continued to decline to recognize certain belief systems as religions, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, making them ineligible for tax benefits. The government continued to investigate Scientologists and Muslim groups for reported constitutional violations. The court decision declaring the headscarf ban for teachers in public schools unconstitutional left states to implement legal changes. Scientologists continued to report instances of governmental discrimination, such as the use of “sect filters” to block them from public sector employment. Police investigated anti-Semitic incidents to determine if they violated bans on anti-Semitic speech and acts but sometimes terminated investigations without bringing charges because of lack of evidence.
In November Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted PLC status in Baden-Wuerttemberg and in December in Bremen. These decisions followed the June ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court that Bremen’s 2011 parliamentary decision to deny Jehovah’s Witnesses PLC status was unconstitutional because only administrative – not parliamentary – bodies may determine a religious community’s PLC status. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ application for PLC status in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), filed in 2006, remained pending.
The status of the COS remained unresolved. No court at the state or federal level issued any ruling on whether Scientology was a religion.
In April a female Muslim student in NRW won a slander suit against a man who called her a jihadist for wearing a headscarf and head-to-toe clothing while shopping. The court fined him 750 euros ($804).
States reviewed their legislation to match the Federal Constitutional Court ruling that overturned the ban on the wearing of headscarves by teachers in public schools. Two states, Lower Saxony and NRW, lifted existing bans, and others determined their bans were constitutional, such as in Berlin, where the law prohibits teachers or other civil servants (but not students) from wearing any religious symbol.
In October leaders of a Dusseldorf elementary school refused to allow women wearing burkas, niqabs, or other face veils onto the school grounds, stating the veils frightened children and made it difficult to identify the wearer as the person authorized to pick up children. A school in Essen with similar concerns resolved the issue by having women in burkas and niqabs show their faces to school officials in a private room.
On December 17, special forces of the Baden-Wuerttemberg state police raided six members’ residences and the mosque of the Mesdschid Sahabe Cultural and Education Center in Stuttgart, confiscated material, and closed the building permanently, stating the group supported the use of violence as a means to accomplish religious objectives. The state’s minister of interior banned the organization from further activity, stating raids in March had provided material evidence Mesdschid Sahabe supported terrorism by funding and recruiting at least 10 known foreign fighters for the conflict in Syria.
On July 3, the Bremen regional court ruled a police search of the mosque of the Islamic Cultural Center (IKZ) on February 28 was unlawful because police had mishandled threat information. Bremen police said they suspected a person of distributing automatic weapons for a possible terror attack to individuals with ties to the IKZ. IKZ leaders reported police destroyed the front door, handcuffed and forced several mosque visitors to lie on the floor for hours, and ignored crying children. The IKZ denied statements by Bremen’s OPC and Bremen’s interior ministry that the mosque supported Salafist groups. The police found no weapons.
Education, including religious instruction and curriculum, remained under the authority of the individual states. The number of classes on Islam in public schools continued to grow as states with existing programs, such as Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hessen, further expanded offerings of religious classes on Islam to additional grade levels and schools. Teachers of classes on Islam were both Muslim and non-Muslim. Many states cooperated with Muslim communities by forming advisory councils to assist in planning the curriculum. Universities created programs to train additional instructors to teach these classes. The Alevi community continued to offer religious lessons in schools in seven federal states for approximately 1,500 students.
Federal and state OPCs continued to observe a number of Muslim groups the OPCs suspected of furthering goals they said were incompatible with the Basic Law, such as “creating a theocracy based on their interpretation of sharia in which the free and democratic constitutional order would no longer have any legitimacy.” One example was the Muslim Brotherhood, with 1,000 members, whose ideology the OPCs stated was “socially disintegrative.” Per the federal OPC’s annual report, the OPCs also suspected the 30,000-member Milli Gorus Islamic Community, an organization of the Turkish diaspora, of using political and social influence to achieve an Islamic order according to the group’s interpretation.
Scientologists continued to report instances of governmental discrimination. “Sect filters,” which were signed statements asking potential government employees and contractors to confirm they had no contact with Scientologists and rejected their doctrines, remained in use in the public and private sectors, although courts at the state and federal level had ruled it was improper to use them to deny employment or contracts to Scientologists. In May the Baden-Wuerttemberg government narrowed its policy to require signed “sect filters” only from external subcontractors providing promotional materials, job training, and IT and business consulting. The subcontractors had to indicate they would not apply Scientology’s methods in providing services to the state.
On January 16, the Stuttgart Superior Court ordered the city of Stuttgart to pay 4,780 euros ($5,135) in lost income to a tree expert it had hired to train park employees on tree care. The expert had sued the city after it cancelled its contract with him when he refused to sign a “sect filter” stating he rejected Scientology methods and had not been trained in them.
According to annual federal and state OPC reports and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia monitored the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.
Four of the major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, Social Democratic Party, and Free Democratic Party) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.
As individual cases progressed through the court system during the year, Bavarian authorities returned some of the children of members of the Twelve Tribes religious community in Klosterzimmern to the custody of their parents. Other children remained in foster care. Bavarian authorities had taken approximately 40 children of Twelve Tribes members into protective custody in September 2013 in response to allegations of child abuse due to the community’s practice of corporal punishment, a practice prohibited by federal law. In at least one of the custody cases, the Federal Constitutional Court rejected the parents’ appeal of lower court custody denials on the basis that their religious freedom had been violated; this exhausted those parents’ legal options to regain custody. In another case, a court granted the parents’ appeal to regain custody of their two children after the parents told the court they had left the Twelve Tribes community and did not adhere to prohibited practices. Although not all cases had been resolved, in most cases authorities returned infants and children more than 15 years old to their parents, reportedly because Twelve Tribes members did not administer corporal punishment to those age groups. Reports varied on the number of children returned.
In November 2014, the Federal Constitutional Court rejected the final appeal from parents whose request to homeschool their children on religious grounds had been rejected by regional courts in Hesse in 2013 and 2014. The family had stated mandatory school attendance exposed the children to pornographic images during sex education classes.
On May 26, a court sentenced five Kurdish men for an October 2014 arson attack against a mosque in Bad Salzuflen, NRW. The two primary perpetrators were sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. The other three were convicted of aiding and abetting the attack; two received parole and the third a fine. The perpetrators stated they were drunk when they decided to attack the mosque as retribution for extremist violence against Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
On February 5, a local court in Wuppertal sentenced three Palestinian men for throwing Molotov cocktails at the main synagogue in Wuppertal in 2014. The building was empty at the time. Two men received 18-month suspended sentences for aggravated arson, and the third man, 18 years old, was placed on juvenile probation. The judge agreed with the defendants, who said their actions were not anti-Semitic but instead were an attempt to draw people’s attention to violence in Gaza. The head of the Wuppertal Jewish community, however, said he believed the attack was an act of anti-Semitism and expressed concern over the leniency of the sentence.
On December 9, a state court said there was no basis for the charges filed by Wuppertal prosecutors against nine Muslims, including Muslim activist Sven Lau, for misuse of uniforms for intimidation, and against 11 others for violating laws on assembly. In September 2014, the media reported that the group wore jackets labeled “Sharia Police” and briefly staged patrols in Wuppertal, Aachen, and Bonn to counter alcohol consumption, gambling, smoking, and concerts and to pressure youth to convert to Islam.
In November the Berlin Regional Court sentenced a Danish imam, who in 2014 had called for the death of Jews during prayers at a Berlin mosque, to pay a fine of 1,800 euros ($1,933) for incitement of hatred and endangering the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims. NGOs and local residents had criticized other imams at the mosque for hate speech in previous years; local politicians called for the mosque to be banned.
After Chancellor Angela Merkel attended commemorations in Paris on January 11 for the January 7-9 terrorist attacks there, she made a clear distinction between Islam itself and those who commit or call for acts of violence in the name of Islam in order to oppress others, and emphasized the importance of continually engaging in a dialogue with Muslims. On January 13, President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, most cabinet members, party and caucus chiefs, members of the national parliament, as well as high-ranking Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders joined a Muslim-organized gathering of approximately 10,000 people at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to commemorate the victims of the Paris attacks. Leaders called for a tolerant, open-minded country and expressed support for freedom of religion and speech.
At several public events in the days after the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, Chancellor Merkel and members of her cabinet condemned the attacks and emphasized Germany's commitment to individual rights, tolerance, and respect for others. Federal Commissioner for Integration, Migration, and Refugees Aydan Oezoguz warned against “driving people into the arms of extremists by placing all Muslims under general suspicion.”
The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups. An agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews provided supplemental funding to the Jewish community to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, and support integration and social work. The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries. State governments also accepted an ongoing obligation to provide financial support to the Jewish community, including renovating old synagogues and constructing new ones. State and local police units continued to provide security measures around synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
The federal government continued to provide 10 million euros ($10.7 million) annually to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage. In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute. State governments provided additional funds to Jewish organizations in various amounts.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere continued to participate in the German Islam Conference, an ongoing forum for dialogue among federal and state government representatives, Islamic organizations, and prominent Muslims. The annual plenary held in previous years was replaced by working groups meeting quarterly and produced papers focused on social work and pastoral care of Muslim communities.
On January 31, the Academy of World Religions at the University of Hamburg established the first chair for the study of Alevism worldwide. The organization The Kurdish Community in Germany welcomed this recognition.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.