In Germany, the churches are largely allowed to regulate labor laws independently. The so-called right of self-determination of the churches, which is guaranteed in the Basic Law, gives them a degree of freedom that is unique in Europe. Church labor law concerns collective bargaining regulations, a specific form of co-determination and, in particular, protection against dismissal.
The right to self-determination was already granted in principle in the Paulskirchenverfang of 1848. The Basic Law of 1949 refers to the legal text of the Weimar Reichsverfang on the subject. According to the 1985 decision of the Federal Constitutional Court, churches may demand certain duties of loyalty in their employment contracts under the "guiding principle of a Christian community of service". Each church can thus determine for itself "within the bounds of the law that applies to all" who must be loyal in what employment relationship and in what form. In the Catholic Church, the "Basic Order of Catholic Service" has been in force since 1994. Employees must then "recognize and observe the principles of the Catholic doctrine of faith and morals". It is permissible to dismiss someone who has publicly acted "against fundamental principles of the Catholic Church" or who has attracted attention through "serious personal moral misconduct". Effective denunciations have occurred, for example, in the case of a Catholic teacher who married a divorced man and a doctor from a Catholic hospital who publicly criticized the church's position on abortion. In 2002, the German bishops also declared, with regard to the then newly created "registered life partnerships" for same-sex partners, that employees who entered into them were in breach of their duties of loyalty and could thus be dismissed.. Together, the Catholic and Protestant churches are the second-largest employer in Germany, with around 1.2 million employees. Church service includes employees in pastoral care, in church educational and social institutions, as well as in church administration.