Felix ElsnerFelix Elsner

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.


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.

Grundgesetz – Article 2: Personal Freedoms

Article 2 concerns personal freedoms.

It stipulates:

  1. Jeder hat das Recht auf die freie Entfaltung seiner Persönlichkeit, soweit er nicht die Rechte anderer verletzt und nicht gegen die verfassungsmäßige Ordnung oder das Sittengesetz verstößt.
  2. Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit. Die Freiheit der Person ist unverletzlich. In diese Rechte darf nur auf Grund eines Gesetzes eingegriffen werden.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

Everyone has the right to free development of his personality, insofar as he does not violate the rights of others and as long as he is not in violation of the constitutional order or decency laws.

The state grants you the freedom to become whoever you want to be. That decency laws have a place in a law written in those times should surprise no one; it seems archaic still.

Paragraph 2 states:

Everyone has the right to life and freedom from bodily harm. The freedom of the person is inviolable. Only on the grounds of a law may there be interference with these rights

From the right to freedom from bodily harm arises the need for a protection force, a police if you will. We are still in first-principles territory. Applying these rights and ensuring they not be violated will be the task of the following articles

In conclusion, no one may be compelled to give up these rights, because they are by definition inviolable. A good litmus test for detecting true evil is propagation of the notion that human dignity has to be earned, that upkeep of basic rights should have to be a continuous process.

Once a society starts talking about privilege and handouts, they’re either on the brink of an all-out, total war, or just deeply infatuated with the notion that people they distrust are not to be considered people.

That is why this law is such a great one. It disabuses us from even entertaining such dehumanizing thoughts. Note the use of right in lieu of privilege.

Grundgesetz – Article 1: Human Dignity and Rights

Articles 1 through 19 concern the fundamental rights of every citizen.

Art. 1 concerns human dignity, human rights, and the binding nature of human rights.

It stipulates:

  1. Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.
  2. Das Deutsche Volk bekennt sich darum zu unverletzlichen und unveräußerlichen Menschenrechten als Grundlage jeder menschlichen Gemeinschaft, des Friedens und der Gerechtigkeit in der Welt.
  3. Die nachfolgenden Grundrechte binden Gesetzgebung, vollziehende Gewalt und Rechtsprechung als unmittelbar geltendes Recht.

Let us dissect and translate this article by paragraph.

Paragraph 1 states:

The dignity of humankind is untouchable. To esteem and protect it is duty of all state power.

Coming out of the Second World War, the atrocities committed there let the drafters and signatories of the Grundgesetz place a high value on protecting the inviolableness of every single individual rather than nationalistic sentiment. Not liberty, but human dignity is the greatest good.

A piece of semantics: We’ll get to international law(‘Völkerrecht’) later, but “crimes against humanity” is not translated “Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit”, but rather “gegen die Menschheit”. Critics such as Hannah Arendth rightfully bemoan the degradation of the powerful language of “crimes against humanity itself” in the German version as “crimes against humaneness”; as if only proper etiquette was violated.

Paragraph 2 states:

The German people thus profess the infrangible and inalienable nature of human rights as basis of any human community, of peace, and of justice in the world.

The infrangibility and inalienability has limits in special circumstances, as laid out in art. 17a through 19 and art. 104, among others. Interesting is the inclusion of peace and justice around the world, if only as an observation as to effective guiding principles.

Paragraph 3 states:

The following basic rights bind legislation, executive power, and judicature as actual applicable law.

This paragraph translates the preceding two into justification for the following of the 18 articles concerning the Grundrechte.

In conclusion, Article 1 upholds humankind itself and stresses the duty of the German people to acknowledge and take responsibility for any action and inaction taken. The applicable reach of this law is local, the reach of responsibility bestowed upon the German people is global. The abstract concept of the dignity of man is set as the cornerstone of all justification of the Grundgesetz.

Grundgesetz – The Beginning

The Fundamental Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, also known as the “Grundgesetz”, is the constitution of this magnificent country of ours.

Leading up to the incoming election, this series will explore the articles of the Grundgesetz, one by one.

The author is a layman in legal matters but will try not to smother this fine piece of law.

The circumstances and intentions in crafting the Grundgesetz will be explored at length at a later time. This series will conclude with commentary and more background information. For now, on with the legalese.


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