Religion, Rights and Secular Society

Religion, Rights and Secular Society

European Perspectives

Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

The expectations of many that religion in modern Europe would be swept away by the powerful current of secularization have not been realised, and today few topics generate more controversy than the complex relationship between religious and secular values. The ‘religious/secular’ relationship is examined in this book, which brings together scholars from different parts of Europe and beyond to provide insights into the methods by which religion and equivalent beliefs have been, and continue to be, protected in the legal systems and constitutions of European nations. The contributors’ chapters reveal that the oft-tumultuous legacy of Europe’s relationship with religion still resonates across a continent where legal, political and social contours have been powerfully shaped by faith and religious difference.

Chapter 4: Law, religion and belief in Germany

Gerhard Robbers

Subjects: law - academic, european law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


The German Federal Constitution starts with the words: ‘Conscious of their responsibility before God and man, inspired by the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe, the German people, in the exercise of their constituent power, have adopted this Basic Law.’ This invocatio dei in the preamble of the Constitution makes reference to the idea of God; it is not an advocatio dei, which would directly place the Constitution under the will of God, as is the case with many other countries’ constitutions such as those of Ireland and Greece. The preamble does not restrict its reference to the Christian idea of God. It would have been inconceivable that in 1949, after the murder of the Jews by the Germans and in the attempt to reconnect Germany with its pre- Nazi and anti-Nazi good traditions, the new German constitution should have excluded the Jewish idea of God. It is generally understood that the preamble of the Basic Law does not refer to any particular religious vision of God (be it the Christian, Jewish or Muslim one), or any other specific concept of God.

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