Friday, April 07, 2017

European Court Says German Church Taxes Do Not Violate Religious Freedom

In Case of Klein and Others v. Germany, (ECHR, April 6. 2017), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that Germany's church taxes do not violate Article 9 (freedom of religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The holding is summarized in the press release on the case issued by the Court:
[I]n these cases the taxes/fees had been levied not by the State, but by the applicants’ churches – which the applicants were free to leave under German law. As such, in most of the cases the levying and calculation of the taxes/fees had been an autonomous church activity, which could not be attributed to the German State.
However, in one case the State had been involved in levying a special church fee on an applicant who was not a member of the relevant church. This was because the fee which had been levied on the applicant’s wife had been subtracted directly from the applicant’s tax reimbursement claim by way of an off-set – therefore subjecting the applicant to his wife’s financial obligations towards her church. However, this off-set had arisen because the couple themselves had chosen to file a joint tax assessment....