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The status of a corporation under public law

Religious communities may be recognized as corporations under public law (Körperschaften des öffentlichen Rechts). This provision dates back to the time when the Church and State were not yet separated. Originally it was only intended for the major Christian faiths. Since 1919 this status can be conferred on other religious communities if they show proof, through their membership numbers and their internal constitution, of continuity and stability (art. 140 GG and art. 137 (5-2) WRV). Another requirement to be recognised as a corporation under public law is not mentioned in the Basic Law; the religious community must respect the law and act in accordance with the constitutional principles and must not infringe the fundamental rights of others.

Refer to the Constitutional Court’s decision of 19 December 2000, 2 BvR 1500/97.

The status of a corporation under public law can be conferred on the religious communities, at their request, by the Länder and the formal steps to recognition vary. Most often, this status is conferred by an administrative decision made by the Land’s government or by a competent minister. In Hamburg recognition is granted by decree, while in North-Rhine-Westphalia and in Bremen it is the Parliament that confers this status by means of a law. In Germany, over 100 organisations are recognised as corporations under public law.

A list of these organisations is available on the website of the University of Trier’s Institute for European Constitutional Law.

The corporation status helps religious communities exercise their religious freedom. It allows them to organise themselves according to their religious needs because the restrictions of the law on private associations does not apply. Furthermore, religious corporations under public law do not participate in State administration. They remain separate from the State and any contact with the State is as a private juridical person, recognised under the fundamental rights.

The status of corporation under public law encompasses many specific rights, including the right to employ civil servants. This status is open to all religious communities and the privileges associated with it are not discriminatory.

D 19 July 2012    AMichael Heinig

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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