Bundestag debates religious freedom © Michael Kappeler
The human right to religious freedom is under threat worldwide. This year, the German government presented a comprehensive report on typical forms of religious persecution. There was much praise from the Bundestag.
The German government's report on the situation of freedom of religion or belief worldwide is comprehensive and systematic. The Bundestag on Friday praised the 97-page study, with numerous parliamentarians suggesting amendments. The chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Volker Kauder (CDU), also called for a new debate on the introduction of a federal government commissioner for religion.
The report was modeled on the U.S. State Department's annual study of country analyses and the EU Parliament's report on freedom of religion or belief, which is limited to countries with serious violations. The German government, however, follows a typological approach: the report is to illustrate the state of affairs worldwide "on the basis of typically occurring violations of the human right to freedom of religion or belief by state and non-state actors".
Discussion about systematics
A point of criticism for Kauder and Green Party politician Volker Beck. Both endorsed country analyses. This is more complete and, according to Beck, makes it possible to preventively counter negative developments in countries. SPD member of parliament Frank Schwabe, on the other hand, welcomed the systematic.
Maria Bohmer (CDU), Minister of State at the Foreign Office, justified the approach by saying that it would enable the government to support the legislation of other countries and promote structures for religious dialogue, for example. The report draws on the above-mentioned studies and UN reports as sources; it also mentions the "Ecumenical Report on Religious Freedom of Christians Worldwide" by the German Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
Most importantly, it uses data collected at 93 German missions abroad in October 2015. Kauder complained that "almost nothing" was listed on the persecution of Christians.
Dealing with religious symbols
First, the study explains the complex dimension of freedom of religion or belief. A first look at the use of religious symbols shows this: In France, the clearly visible wearing of religious symbols is prohibited in schools; in Saudi Arabia, the visible wearing of non-Islamic religious insignia is prohibited; and in China, state employees and party officials, as well as teachers and students, are not allowed to wear religious symbols.
However, the bans come in different contexts, from state secularism to the religiously constituted state to atheist state ideology. This becomes clear when it comes to the right to change religion: While this is not a problem in France, the report points out that "states with a Muslim majority population sometimes provide draconian penalties for public renunciation of Islam," for example in the case of conversions. This is true not only in Saudi Arabia, but also in Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Yemen, the Maldives, Mauritania, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. In countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, the authorities "simply do not take administrative notice" of the rejection of Islam.
Forms of discrimination are many
Report highlights various forms of discrimination, such as family and inheritance consequences and social stigma. In Turkey, non-Muslim religious communities are not registered as legal entities. The report also covers other countries where people of other faiths are oppressed, persecuted or discriminated against in the name of a dominant religion, from Buddhism and Hinduism to Christian orthodoxy.
Also discussed is the crackdown on "non-conformists" such as critics of religion, freethinkers and atheists. The federal government also mentions discrimination against homosexuals on religious or ideological grounds.
Germany is not the subject of this report, but it is mentioned. On Friday, CDU member of parliament Erika Steinbach made a firm reference to the current situation in Germany. Many refugees who come to Germany don't know what religious tolerance is, he said. Her party colleague Heribert Hirte, however, complained about the lack of knowledge about religion in German society. This, he said, makes it difficult to understand those of different faiths.