Felix ElsnerFelix Elsner

Grundgesetz – Article 4: Freedom of Belief

Article 4 concerns freedom of religion and ideology.

It stipulates:

  1. Die Freiheit des Glaubens, des Gewissens und die Freiheit des religiösen und weltanschaulichen Bekenntnisses sind unverletzlich.
  2. Die ungestörte Religionsausübung wird gewährleistet.
  3. Niemand darf gegen sein Gewissen zum Kriegsdienst an der Waffe gezwungen werden. Das Nähere regelt ein Bundesgesetz.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

The freedom of faith, conscience, and the freedom of religious and ideological denomination are inviolable.

A very progressive and humble law, especially considering that it was ratified in 1949, which wasn’t exactly the swinging liberal sixties. The drafters, who must have been mostly of judeo-christian denomination, took even the fringes of society into their consideration. They could have relied on the implicit monopoly on power of their like-minded peers1, yet they put explicit clauses limiting that power into the law, including strong separation of church and state.

Paragraph 2 states:

The undisturbed practice of religion is being guaranteed.

Not only faith itself is being protected, but also practicing what one believes in. Erection of places of worship and the bounds of freedom of religion, including the extent to which one may force their child to observe a religious lifestyle are codified in subsequent articles.

Paragraph 3 states:

No one may be compelled to serve at arms against his conscience. A federal law governs the particulars.

This one is fairly obvious, given that a previous ban on German rearmament had failed. Prohibiting conscription is a simple deterrent. The case of a Spannungsfall or Verteidigungsfall is governed by another article.

In conclusion, the article finally translates the phrase “Die Gedanken sind frei” into law and sets the groundwork for allowing people to not only believe what they choose to, but also to practice their faith openly.

The commitment to freedom of ideology is astonishing, given that the cold war was heating up by the minute and the “threat of communism” was awarded a disproportionately high credibility. Perhaps it was assumed communist subversion would be treated as treason and not categorized as a “worldview-ly denomination“(literal translation), thus obviating any qualification of the law to only include social capitalism as allowed.


  1. Christian democrats had wielded near absolute power for years, both on politics and on morals 

This article is part 5 of the “Grundgesetz” series.