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Grundgesetz – Article 8: Freedom of association

Article 8 concerns freedom of association.

It stipulates:

  1. Alle Deutschen haben as Recht, sich ohne Anmeldung oder Erlaubnis friedlich und ohne Waffen zu versammeln.
  2. Für Versammlungen unter freiem Himmel kann dieses Recht durch Gesetz oder auf Grund eines Gesetzes beschränkt werden.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

All Germans have the right to gather without the need for a registration or permit, peacefully and without weapons.

Indoors, this right may never be curtailed, as long as the attentees do not violate or intend to violate another article of the constitution.

Paragraph 2 states:

For assemblies outdoors, this right may be curtailed through or based on a law.

The mere assumption that there might be tensions is not reason to order the cancellation of the event. The police must protect the assembly and the expected parties from one another, exhausting all reasonably available manpower. Only if public order cannot be guaranteed even with a heavy police presence, measures may be taken to alter the event.

In conclusion, even if a whole town is opposed to the appearance of someone, their appearance, at least indoors, but often also outdoors, cannot be prevented legally.

This leads to all sorts of delicate tiptoeing when there are efforts to suppress an undesirable appearance of someone. Public halls suddenly have to close for ‘renovations’, bus service from the train station is regrettably out of service, the projection screen on which the Turkish prime minister is slated to appear poses a ‘security’ risk on account of being too large, you get the gist of it.

As with free speech laws, this is a delicate balancing act between public interest and individual freedom. The author would rather have the community come together to find innovative ways to curb annoyances than have laws which would end up being only selectively enforced to silence dissent.

Grundgesetz – Article 7: School System

Article 7 concerns the school system.

It stipulates:

  1. Das gesamte Schulwesen steht unter der Aufsicht des Staates.
  2. Die Erziehungsberechtigten haben das Recht, über die Teilnahme des Kindes am Religionsunterricht zu bestimmen.
  3. Der Religionsunterricht ist in den öffentlichen Schulen mit der Ausnahme der bekenntnisfreien Schulen ordentliches Lehrfach. Unbeschadet des staatlichen Aufsichtsrechtes wird der Religionsunterricht in Übereinstimmung mit den Grundsätzen der Religionsgemeinschaften erteilt. Kein Lehrer darf gegen seinen Willen verpflichtet werden, Religionsunterricht zu erteilen.
  4. Das Recht zur Errichtung von privaten Schulen wird gewährleistet. Private Schulen als Ersatz für öffentliche Schulen befürfen der Genehmigung des Staates und unterstehen den Landesgesetzen. Die Genehmigung ist zu erteilen, wenn die privaten Schulen in ihren Lehrzielen und Einrichtungen sowie in der wissenschaftlichen Ausbildung ihrer Lehrkräfte nicht hinter den öffentlichen Schulen zurückstehen und eine Sonderung der Schüler nach Besitzverhältnissen der Eltern nicht gefördert wird. Die Genehmigung ist zu versagen, wenn die wirtschaftliche und rechtliche Stellung der Lehrkräfte nicht genügend gesichert ist.
  5. Eine private Volksschule ist nur zuzulassen, wenn die Unterrichtsverwaltung ein besonderes pädagogisches Interesse anerkennt oder, auf Antrag von Erziehungsberechtigen, wenn sie als Gemeinschaftsschule, als Bekenntnis- oder Weltanschauungsschule errichtet werden soll und eine öffentliche Volksschule dieser Art in der Gemeinde nicht besteht.
  6. Vorschulen bleiben aufgehoben.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

The whole of the school system is under the supervision of the state.

The states govern most of school matters. The federal government mostly dishes out funding for big glossy initiatives while state legislators are free to shape the education in their state. This leads to the final exams, the ‘Abitur’, being much harder in Bavaria than in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Paragraph 2 states:

The legal guardians have the right to decide over the participation of the child in religion class.

Letting the child himself decide would have been too much of a reduction of the parents’ authority over their children.

Paragraph 3 states:

Religion class is a proper school subject in public schools, with exception of the non-denominational schools. Regardless of the state’s right to supervision, religions class will be taught in accordance with the tenets of the religious communities. No teacher may be compelled to give religion class against his will.

Due to several murky manifestations of the close intertwining of the Christian churches and the German state, teachers may very well be compelled, if not forced, to join and teach at religious schools. Because church law takes precedence over labour law, employees of the church even have to live their private lives in accordance with morality laws. This may lead to a teacher at a publicly funded denominational school to be let go over the cardinal sin of separating from their abusive husband.
More on the separation of church and state in a later article.

Paragraph 4 states:

The right to erect private schools is guaranteed. Private schools, as a substitute for public schools, need the permission of the state and are governed by state laws. Permission is to be granted when private schools are not lagging behind public schools in matters of learning goals and their institutions as well as the scientific education of the teaching personnel, and if a segregation of the pupils by parent income is not encouraged. Permission is to be refused if the economic and legal standing of teaching personnel is not sufficiently guaranteed.

Paragraph 5 states:

A private elementary school is only to be permitted if the school administration recognizes a special pedagogic interest, or if it, with the legal guardians’ initiative, is to be erected as a denominational or ideological school and a public school of that kind does not already exist in the area.

Paragraph 6 states:

Preschools stay abolished.

Parents of course are still free to send their children to Mandarin-as-a-second-language-, my-kid-plays-the-violin- kind of preparatory kindergardens and private quasi-preschools to give them that crucial competitive edge over the other toddlers. This paragraph only confirms the abolishment of mandatory preschools.

In conclusion, the parents’ right to instill their belief system’s values into their offspring not only at home, but also at school, is upheld.

Grundgesetz – Article 6: Marriage, Family and Children

Article 6 concerns marriage, family and children.

It stipulates:

  1. Ehe und Familie stehen unter dem besonderen Schutze der staatlichen Ordnung.
  2. Pflege und Erziehung der Kinder sind das natürliche Recht der Eltern und die zuvörderst ihnen obliegende Pflicht. Über ihre Betätigung wacht die staatliche Gemeinschaft.
  3. Gegen den Willen der Erziehungsberechtigten dürfen Kinder nur auf Grund eines Gesetzes von der Familie getrennt werden, wenn die Erziehungsberechtigten versagen oder wenn die Kinder aus anderen Gründen zu verwahrlosen drohen.
  4. Jede Mutter hat Anspruch auf den Schutz und die Fürsorge der Gemeinschaft.
  5. Den unehelichen Kindern sind durch die Gesetzgebung die gleichen Bedingungen für ihre leibliche und seelische Entwicklung und ihre Stellung in der Gesellschaft zu schaffen wie den ehelichen Kindern.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

Marriage and family enjoy the special protection of the stately order.

Paragraph 2 states:

Care and education of the children are the natural right of the parents and first and foremost their duty. The stately community watches over their fulfilment.

Paragraph 3 states:

Children may only be separated from their family in accordance with a law, against the will of the legal guardians, when the legal guardians fail to fulfil their duty or the children are at risk of falling into neglect for other reasons.

Paragraph 4 states:

Every mother is entitled to the protection and care of the community.

Paragraph 5 states:

Children born out of wedlock are to be afforded, through legislation, the same conditions for their physical and emotional development and their status in society as those born in wedlock.

No commentary or conclusion for now, it’s late already.

Grundgesetz – Article 5: Freedom of expression

Article 5 concerns freedom of expression.

It stipulates:

  1. Jeder hat das Recht, seine Meinung in Wort, Schrift und Bild frei zu äußern und zu verbreiten und sich aus allgemein zugänglichen Quellen ungehindert zu unterrichten. Die Pressefreiheit und die Freiheit der Berichterstattung durch Rundfunk und Film werden gewährleistet. Eine Zensur findet nicht statt.
  2. Diese Rechte finden ihre Schranken in den Vorschriften der allgemeinen Gesetze, den gesetzlichen Bestimmungen zum Schutze der Jugend und in dem Recht der persönlichen Ehre.
  3. Kunst und Wissenschaft, Forschung und Lehre sind frei. Die Freiheit der Lehre entbindet nicht von der Treue zur Verfassung.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his opinion in speech, writing and picture, as well as to educate himself from publicly available sources without hindrance. The freedom of the press and the freedom of reporting through radio and film is being guaranteed. A censorship does not take place.

Having an opinion means assessing a fact, it is the result of a thought process. Compound statements of opinion and factual assertions are protected as well, even if the assertion may be proven false, because the compound statement may be aiding in the formation of an opinion.

In addition to individuals, this paragraph also protects publishers and editors. Unimpaired access to information is ensured, which is interesting: Internet access already enjoys status as a basic right, as declared by the Bundesgerichtshof in 2013. After all, information on the internet still consists of word, picture and sound.

Forcing an opinion on someone is not protected by this article. Just as there exists a freedom to disseminate an opinion, there exists the right to choose to ignore it.

Paragraph 2 states:

These rights find their barriers in the provisions of the general laws and regulations, statutory provisions for the protection of the youth and the right of personal honour.

Very important to note, Article 5 is not a magic protection spell to absolve one from a lack of decency or responsibility. It leaves room for strong provisions in the penal code.

Germany has comparatively weak libel laws and provides strong backing for satire and criticism. The Landesmedienanstalten however are zealous in their quests to protect German youth from harm, including depictions of violence and indecency. Featuring insignia of the Third Reich is only allowed in a non-glorifying context.

Freedom of speech in the Federal Republic of Germany is effectively governed by several laws and bodies.

  • Article 5 makes freedom of opinion, of the press and of reporting, and freedom from censorship constitutional principles.
  • Protection of the free and democratic basic order mandates the prohibition of the following: Volksverhetzung, Glorification of National Socialism, use of symbols of the reign of National Socialism, and denial of the Shoah.
  • Article 2 ensures personal rights are strongly protected. Slander and defamation encroach upon these rights. The right to privacy is strongly protected. Personal data may be broadcast or sold only with strong reservations.
  • Article 3 ensures freedom from discrimination, advocating a position irreconcilable with that principle is not protected.
  • Security laws forbid treason.
  • Protection of the youth is governed by the Youth Protection Act and the Jugendmedien-Staatsvertrag.
  • Decency and religious freedom laws. Germany has been a republic for some time now, that does not stop us from having Lèse majesté laws, just for foreign rulers. One must be cautious of hurt feelings, especially if the subject is well connected.
  • Endorsement of criminal actions is forbidden per the penal code.
  • The copyright to Mein Kampf was held by the Free State of Bavaria until 2016. Owing to numerous trade deals, there is strong copyright protection in Germany.

All these factors mean that while Germany enjoys a vibrant and free press landscape, certain items are off limits:
One could, for example, call Donald Rumsfeld a lizard in jest, but calling him a lizard based on the claim that all persons of U.S. American heritage are lizards out to consume human flesh would be indictable, as that would constitute Volksverhetzung per Chapter 7 § 130 of the penal code.

Denying something that happened in the antique is permissible, as sources are not entirely verifiable. The events of the Third Reich however are not to be disputed, as the constitution hinges on preventing them from ever befalling the world again. We’ll get to how this is translated into the education system later.

Paragraph 3 states:

Art and science, research and teaching are free. The freedom of academic teaching does not release one from loyalty to the constitution.

Loyalty to the constitution does not mean a scientific complaint against the constitution may not be leveled. Teaching of course is bound by curriculum, which is set by the federal states.

In conclusion, this article, often misinterpreted, ensures public life and communication may develop in peace and bloom. Not only distribution of, but also access to information is protected.

Addendum

Normally, the biggest issue with freedom of speech are lies told about someone. Yet in Germany it is not permissible to lie about something that happened. The state has a monopoly on what constitutes a falsehood, on what is true and what is not.

Adding to that, the state of independence of the regulatory bodies from the government is somewhat murky; the ranks of the Rundfunkrat are littered with party functionaries.

In practice only useless knuckleheads dispute events of the past that are provably true. The German state provides a sense of calm for the German people as they do not have to tolerate blatant and malicious lies and can prosecute neo-fascist Pied Pipers with solid legal standing.

But also instills a sense of unease. It just does not feel right. Having to fight for temporary injunctions against virulent degenerates as is practice in other countries, as laborious as it is, is preferable to codifying state power over the truth into law. The current state of affairs keeps people honest, at a cost, with mighty force, not persuasion.

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 

Grundgesetz – Article 3: Equality

Article 3 concerns equality in front of the law.

It stipulates:

  1. Alle Menschen sind vor dem Gesetz gleich.
  2. Männer und Frauen sind gleichberechtigt. Der Staat fördert die tatsächliche Durchsetzung der Gleichberechtigung von Männern und Frauen und wirkt auf die Beseitigung bestehender Nachteile hin.
  3. Niemand darf wegen seines Geschlechts, seiner Abstammung, seiner Rasse, seiner Sprache, seiner Heimat und Herkunft, seines Glaubens, seiner religiösen oder politischen Anschauungen benachteiligt oder bevorzugt werden. Niemand darf wegen seiner Behinderung benachteiligt werden.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

All people are equal in front of the law.

The law is only occupied with a theoretical being. Whether people are or are not equal in actual life is of no concern. No one may be more equal than others.

Paragraph 2 states:

Men and women have equal rights. The state promotes the actual enforcement of the equality of men and women and works to eradicate existing disadvantages.

Eradicating existing injustices often involves creating a temporary state of other unjustness, swaying towards the other direction to counter a dangerous existing lean. Whether affirmative action can be construed from this is dubious.

Paragraph 3 states:

No one may be disadvantaged or favoured based on his gender, his heritage, his race, his language, his home and origin, his faith, his religious or political convictions. No one may be disadvantaged because of his disability.

A very abstract one. Again, high aspirations that are difficult to implement. This paragraph seems toothless as a piece of law, as it is bound to be pierced by subsequent articles on freedom of choice, freedom of religion, asylum law, and the factor that while the law may be blind, people are not. It should be understood purely concerning equality in front of the law, not as guidance in civil courts.

In conclusion, this article tries to reconcile the ways in which people are different with their treatment in front of the law.

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