European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

Germany: Court judgement day for human rights battle over religious taxes

Tomorrow, human rights judges will deliver their judgement on a complaint against Germany brought by five critics of religious taxes.

The European Court of Human Rights will announce its ruling in the case Klein and Others v. Germany (nos. 10138/11, 16687/11, 25359/11 and 28919/11) early on Thursday 6 March.

The applicants, Jörg Max Klein, Fritz Nussbaum, Philip Redeker and Heike Redeker, and Uta Gloeckner, were born in 1964, 1935, 1963, 1965, and 1963 respectively and live in Heidelberg, Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Gera, and Nuremberg (Germany).

The case concerns applications by five German nationals about the levying of church taxes or special church fees. Under German law, some Churches and religious societies have the status of public-law entities, and are entitled to levy a church tax and/or fee on their members.

The applicants rely on Article 9 (freedom of religion) to complain that, when such taxes or fees were calculated and levied on the basis of the joint income of both the applicant and their spouse, it violated their right to freedom of religion.

In particular, they complain variously of being obliged to pay for their spouse’s church fee when they themselves were not a member of the church; of requiring the financial assistance of their spouse to pay their church fee, making them dependant on their spouse for their freedom of religion; and of being obliged to pay an unfairly high church tax.

The applicants also rely on Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 9 to complain that the taxes or fees had been discriminatory: either on the basis that there was a difference in treatment between couples in their own situation and couples with different religious affiliations; or on the basis that the fees unfairly discriminated against women.

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