Should the German Government Regulate Language of Religious Rites?

In a recent position paper, the Bavarian center-right German political party Christian-Social Union (CSU) asserts that in mosques in Germany, “sermons should be given mostly in German or be otherwise understandable.” Ironically they demand this “in order to foster integration.” I say “ironically” because the reality of German society is that other religious communities hold their services in a wide variety of languages, so it does not make sense that strict adherence to German in religious services would help Muslim immigrants in Germany “integrate” into a society in which religious freedom allows variety.

Perhaps even stranger is that the CSU position paper notes, as if with alarm, that at present Germany does not have “one Islam, rather Islamic currents in various forms.” Newsflash: has the CSU ever heard of the Reformation? Perhaps the Thirty Years War? How about the Peace of Westphalia? Germany has not had “one Christianity” for centuries. Today Christian communities in Germany include, among others, Catholic, mainstream Protestant/Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, and Orthodox. Even just among the Orthodox Christians in Germany, some are Greek, some Serb, others Russian, etc. Just within the Catholic Church in Germany, there are far more various theological “currents” than I have space to begin to enumerate here.

On Facebook German journalist Ali Mete, Editor-in-Chief at the online journal IslamIQ, questioned,

If one considers the consequences of the CSU demand for making German mandatory in mosques, does this then also mean that the Russian-Orthodox services should be held in German? What about Polish services in Catholic churches? And what about [other] Christian services in the languages of worshipers’ countries of origin?

When I lived in Nuremberg Germany a few years ago, my church had services in both German and Arabic. Almost every major city in Germany has church services in English.

And then there are the Jewish, Buddhist, and other religious communities in Germany. Would it really be an appropriate use of state power for the German government to (try to) regulate the language used in these and other religious services?

As for the demand “sermons should be given mostly in German or be otherwise understandable,” the CSU has not explained what “otherwise understandable” means, i.e. they left their demand for “understandable” ununderstandable. And why stop at just the sermons? Would this mean that priests celebrating Mass in Latin would be required to articulate their speech rather than mumble so that these rich texts are “understandable”? (Gosh, I might support this! Well, not really, but I admit this would be a silver lining to such an awful intrusion of the state.)

In addition, I can’t help but note that the CSU paper fails to question whether having sermons be understandable is actually desirable. After all, my Muslim friends complain almost as much as my Catholic Christian friends about bad sermons. When I asked an American Catholic friend how he avoids getting depressed by bad sermons, he told me, “I sometimes go Mass in Spanish. This way I don’t understand the sermon, so I don’t get depressed!”

But on a more serious note, the decline in Germans’ interest in religious freedom and their own constitution is alarming. The party platform of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party calls for limiting religious freedom for Muslims, and now comes this call from the CSU for the German government to regulate language in Muslims’ Friday communal prayer. One can only hope that German Muslims who have petitioned for religious freedom and respect for Germany’s constitution, and Christian leaders such as Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, who have voiced support for religious freedom, will not become lone voices crying in a German wilderness of waning religious freedom.

About the author

Jennifer S. Bryson

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.