A thought came into my head earlier. It took me back to my student days, studying the German ‘constitution’ (quotes explained below) in Potsdam in 1992, when the burning issue at the time was how to elaborate on the asylum clause in the document.
A few days ago, the German Bundesverfassungsgericht, or Federal Constitutional Court blocked a ban on the NPD—the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands or National Democratic Party of Germany, which is a far-right party, and has existed since the early 1960s.
It has sailed close to being banned in the past (I can recall that it faced such a threat during my student days, and it came close to a ban again in the early 2000s), but just managed to keep on the right side of constitutional law. There is no doubt though, that it is a party which attracts the more extreme elements of the German far right. It has never managed to cross the 5% hurdle required to gain representation in the German Bundestag, or Federal Assembly, but has managed to gain seats in state parliaments.
The German Grundgesetz, or Basic Law, is the German ‘constitution’. It was not officially called a constitution when it was draughted, post World War 2, because that term was reserved for the then hoped-for constitution of a future reunified Germany.
Since this goal of reunification was achieved (and far more quickly than anyone expected), the term Grundgesetz is still used to refer to the document which sets the legal framework of the Federal Republic of Germany, evidently because reunification was effectively (with few exceptions) a takeover of the German Democratic Republic by the Federal Republic of Germany and the merger of the newly-created six states of the former GDR into the Federal Republic rather than a mutual union of two nation states; a state of affairs which caused (and continues to cause) much consternation for years on the part of those Ossis, or GDR citizens, who believed that not every aspect of the GDR was bad, and that an opportunity to incorporate positive aspects of GDR society into the newly-unified Germany were squandered.
The first nineteen articles of the Basic Law relate to core human rights and cannot be revoked. They are the ‘eternal clauses’ and were written, post World War 2, very much with recent German history in mind. They can be expanded upon or clarified, but they are, to all intents and purposes, permanent and irrevocable.
Article 4, Paragraph 1 states:
“Die Freiheit des Glaubens, des Gewissens und die Freiheit des religiösen und weltanschaulichen Bekenntnisses sind unverletzlich.”
“Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable.”
So, at the start of the Basic Law, freedom of religion is set out as a core right.
In Article 21 of the Basic Law, Germany has a controversial article which some believe borders on the curtailment of freedom of conscience, but was designed to prevent the rise of a successor to that funny mustachioed Austrian bloke.
Article 21, Paragraph 2 states:
“Parteien, die nach ihren Zielen oder nach dem Verhalten ihrer Anhänger darauf ausgehen, die freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung zu beeinträchtigen oder zu beseitigen oder den Bestand der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zu gefährden, sind verfassungswidrig. Über die Frage der Verfassungswidrigkeit entscheidet das Bundesverfassungsgericht.”
“Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality.”
The article was used a couple of times in the 1950s as the legal framework for the German Constitutional Court to ban the extreme right SRP, the Sozialistische Reichspartei (the Socialist Reich/Empire Party) and the extreme left KPD, the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (the Communist Party of Germany).
Some are appalled that political parties can be banned, but I have some sympathy with the notion that a constitution should not allow for the existence of parties or organisations which seek to undermine its fundamental principles.
But this is where things get interesting…
Whilst political parties can be banned for being anti-constitutional, there is no such provision in the Basic Law which would cover religions, so presumably adherents to a religion which didn’t believe in the fundamental principles espoused by the German Basic Law would be free to preach the downfall of the German Republic and the repeal of its laws in a way that would see secular promoters of such ideals prosecuted. Not only that, but followers of an anti-constitutional religious doctrine would be protected by their inviolable right to freedom of religion or philosophical creed, as set out under Article 4, which, if you recall, is a right which cannot be revoked.
This presents a couple of interesting potential scenarios.
On the one hand, there is clearly nothing to stop religious adherents preaching the downfall of the German state in line with their own holy books and scriptures, in a way which a political party could not do in its own core principles without finding itself banned.
On the other hand, it does make me wonder why any determined extremist party doesn’t simply hide under the veil of a religion.
There are adherents to certain religions who have equally backward and anti-constitutional beliefs to extreme political parties. In fact, many religious adherents often go even beyond revoking the German Basic Law, rejecting the notion of any man-made law and demanding the imposition of religious law.
So, without wishing to give any ideas to extremist parties, what would happen if a new Führer arose and dressed his political ambitions up as religious beliefs? The Nazis were halfway there as it was, founded on the back of the Thule Society, and with a mixed bag of occultism, astrology, and Nordic mythology playing a big part in the highest ranks of the Nazi party.
In other words, what if an extremist party were simply to assume the trappings of a religion?
Sure, such a party wouldn’t be recognised as an official religion, which seems to rely on numbers of adherents and offers tax breaks and special status under German law, but could well potentially enjoy the officially-recognised status of a ‘sect’.
How would the German Constitutional Court address such a problem? What is it that gives otherwise abhorrent ideologies the veneer of respectability if they invoke the supernatural?
Answers on a prayer card to the Bundesverfassungsgericht, c/o Frau Kanzlerin Angela Merkel.