The references to God proposed for inclusions in the preamble to the new constitutions for the German Federal Republic and the Land of Lower Saxony are a clear violation of the religious neutrality of the state. The debate on this issue has shown that the attempt to include a reference to God is founded on the representation of non-religious views as morally inferior.
The International Humanist & Ethical Union represents ethical humanist organisation around the world, whose millions of members deny a divine authority in their lives. Humanists accept that the norms and values which shape human life have been created and developed by humanity itself. And they believe that these values should be based on fundamental moral principles which cannot be arbitrarily rejected or changed. These principles have found expression in declarations on human rights.
In support of its German members, the IHEU makes the following points:
- During their deliberations the German Parliaments are requested to pay heed to the “UN Declaration for the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination on the basis of Religion or Belief”. In the view of IHEU the proposed reference to God in the constitution, like every other religious connection in the constitution, is contrary to articles 2 and 3 of the UN declaration.
- By linking state legislation to an exclusively religious belief, the superiority of religious beliefs over non-religious beliefs is implied. The IHEU not only rejects this implication as being untrue, but believes that it is wrong for the state to judge upon its truth. Such an evaluation is outside the competence of the state.
- Politicians have argued that the immorality of the Third Reich shows the need for the Constitution to have a religious basis. This attempted justification reveals a terrible misunderstanding of the lessons of history. It is totally false to blame Nazism on non-religious people, and a disturbing and dangerous vilification of the large minority of the population who are not religious.
- An important lesson drawn from the Third Reich was the need to incorporate human rights into the constitution, thereby providing the basic framework for an open, democratic society. It is essential for such a society that the state treats all its citizens as equal before the law and that it respects the principles of freedom of conscience and toleration of dissenting viewpoints. If it is to fulfil these functions the constitution must not favour the ideology, religion or worldview of some of the state’s citizens over the worldview of others. Nor should it seek to establish a religion, thus violating the separation of church and state. It is therefore totally wrong to use the terrible nature of the Third Reich as an argument for linking the state to a particular worldview and, is so doing, contravening human rights.
Making the state independent of any particular religion or ideology has been important step in the democratic progress of many countries. But around the world this progress is now under threat from fundamentalists who wish to make religion a concern of the state. The IHEU cautions against putting this progress in jeopardy by giving in to the pressure from religious groups.
Presidents’ statement of February 17, 1994
Suggested academic reference
'Proposed reference to God in the constitutions or the preamble to the constitutions of the German Federal republic and others (1994)', Humanists International, Board of Directors, 1994