Procedure Before the Federal Constitutional Court (1997-2000)
On 13 August 1997, we filed a constitutional complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe against the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court dated 26 June 1997.
The judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court of 19 December 2000 confirmed that the internal structure and organisation of a religious association may conflict with the requirements laid down in the German laws that govern associations (Vereinsrecht). However, corporate status makes it easier for a religious association to structure its organisation and activities in accordance with the principles of its religious identity. Furthermore, it stated that the public corporation status offered to religious associations in Article 137 paragraph 5 sentence 2 Weimar Constitution helps develop religious freedom and supports the autonomy and independence of religious associations.
The judges at the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that religious associations with corporate status cannot be required to be loyal to the state, which had been required previously by the Federal Administrative Court. The religious prohibition on participating in political elections does not in itself justify the denial of corporate status. The decision of the Federal Administrative Court on 26 June 1997 violated Article 140 German Constitution along with Article 137 paragraph 5 sentence 2 Weimar Constitution and was therefore quashed. The case was referred back to the Federal Administrative Court to examine in a specialised procedure whether the awarding of corporate status would conflict with the fundamental rights of third parties who are entrusted to state protection.
Second Procedure Before the Federal Constitutional Court (2001)
In the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court of 17 May 2001, which referred the case back to Berlin Higher Administrative Court for a hearing and decision, the judges established clear guidelines for further investigating the conduct of our religious association. The investigation focused on blood transfusions for children and on family members who leave the religious association. In addition, the Court found that child endangerment could not be presupposed as a result of the parenting standards within the religious association.
Procedure Before Berlin Higher Administrative Court (2001-2005)
An oral hearing was held on 25 March 2004. The ensuing decision of 5 April 2004 (OVG 5 B 12.01) was annulled on 22 September 2004 due to changes in the Senate panel at the Higher Administrative Court. Hence, a new hearing was scheduled for 2 December 2004.
Following the oral proceedings, the Higher Administrative Court put forward a settlement proposal on 2 December 2004. The State of Berlin rejected it after consulting with all other German states. Although it would entail waiving certain rights should corporate rights be awarded, we accepted the settlement.
On 24 March 2005, Berlin Higher Administrative Court pronounced its decision in our favour in the proceedings for public corporation rights. According to the Court, the religious association fulfilled the requirements for obtaining the rights of a public corporation. The State of Berlin filed an appeal with the Federal Administrative Court against the refusal to permit a legal revision.
Third Procedure Before the Federal Administrative Court (2005-2006)
In its decision of 1 February 2006, the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG 7 B 80.05) dismissed the appeal regarding the refusal to permit a legal review. Hence, the judgment of Berlin Higher Administrative Court became legally binding. The religious association of Jehovas Zeugen in Deutschland was finally recognised as a corporation under public law by the State of Berlin. This brought to a close 12 years of legal proceedings.
Corporate Rights Awarded
At its session on 13 June 2006, the Berlin Senate noted approvingly that the Senate Department for Science, Research and Culture intended to award corporate rights to the religious association of Jehovas Zeugen in Deutschland, e. V. That award was bestowed the same day and was announced in the Official Gazette for Berlin (Amtsblatt für Berlin, 14 July 2006, 2428).
On 5 July 2006, State Secretary Barbara Kisseler presented Werner Rudtke, a member of our Branch Committee (spiritual leadership of the religious association), with a certificate that bestowed the rights of a public corporation. This presentation marked the end of our efforts since 1990 to be recognised as a religious association with equal rights. Jehovas Zeugen in Deutschland thereby joined more than 25 religious associations in Berlin that were recognised as public corporations.