The Jehovah's Witnesses won a partial victory Tuesday in their effort to be recognized as a church under German law in a ruling handed down by the German Constitutional Court.
Their religion, which claims 160,000 members in Germany, is seeking the same status and consequent financial privileges as are accorded the country's Lutheran Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, for example.
In Germany, the two main churches, other Christian groups and the Jewish community receive the proceeds of a "church tax" levied by the state authorities and other advantages.
The court ruled that one cannot demand of the Jehovah's Witnesses a special "loyalty to the state" over and above that demanded by the law.
The Jehovah's Witnesses appealed to the Constitutional Court after the Berlin regional government and then the Berlin administrative court rejected their demand for recognition because they view the state as "part of the world of Satan" and therefore refuse to take part in elections.
The court in the southern city of Karlsruhe quashed the ruling by the federal administrative court in Berlin, but specified a range of conditions which a religious community must fulfil to be recognized and sent the case back to the lower court.
Given the "special powers" such as tax revenue or broadcasting airtime that are accorded recognized churches, that status can only be accorded to bodies whose behavior does not endanger the principles of democracy and the rule of law, the judges said.
The court in Karlsruhe held that the state cannot judge a religious community on the basis of its beliefs, only on its actions.
Referring to the Jehovah's Witnesses' belief in corporal punishment for children, and their rejection of blood transfusions, the judges said the state had a duty to "protect human life and bodily integrity" and the rights of children.
The administrative court judges must now rule on whether the Jehovah's Witnesses' practices or their constraints upon those who wish to quit their community prevent such recognition -- KARLSRUHE (AFP)
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