Luxembourg moves towards further separation of religion and the state

On 26 January an agreement was signed between Luxembourg’s faith groups and the Government which reorganises the relationship between church and state. The funding agreement, which is worth 8.3 million euros in 2015, will have an impact on most groups; but the greatest impact will be felt by the Roman Catholic Church.

Luxembourg does not have an Established Church; and Articles 19 & 20 of the Constitution guarantee freedom of religion and of public worship and declare that no-one may be obliged to participate in the acts and ceremonies of a religion or to observe its days of rest. However, Article 106 provides that “The salaries and pensions of ministers of religion shall be borne by the State and regulated by the law”. In order to qualify for state funding, a religious group must establish an official and stable representative body with which the Government can interact; and the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek, Russian, Romanian, and Serbian Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Church, the Reformed Protestant Church, the Protestant Church of Luxembourg and the Jewish congregations currently receive state support: see the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. However, the US report notes:

“Muslim leaders … stated that there was discrimination by the government because it did not sign a legal convention with the Muslim community. As a result, this community does not receive financial benefits from the government that other religious communities with such a convention received.”

Notwithstanding Article 106, during the previous week Luxembourg’s religious communities agreed with the Government on a new funding plan that will severely restrict state funding for the Roman Catholic Church but will extend it to the Muslim community for the first time. The stipends of all those within the faith groups who are currently paid by the state will continue; but those appointed in future will have to be supported by their respective religious communities. There will continue to be some Government subsidy for salaries of those engaged in counselling. The state subsidies currently received by the Roman Catholic Church will be severely reduced; and the agreement also foresees that the Roman Catholic seminary in Weimershof will become an interfaith learning centre, while the Church’s properties will be put into what Luxemburger Wort describes as a “public fund” – presumably something along the lines of a separate charitable trust. In addition, Roman Catholic confessional education in schools is set to be replaced with an ethics and morals course, including units on world religions.

The Archbishop of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Hollerich, said in interview that his Church was now forced to show how it could preach the gospel as a significantly-poorer institution. His principal regret was the abolition of religious instruction in state schools in favour of general teaching of moral values: in his view, parents had a right to determine what values their children should be taught in school and that right had been taken away from them by the state. He concluded that Luxembourg had moved closer to the French model of laïcité and suggested that that was partly because its politicians were heavily influenced by France. Luxemburger Wort reports the reactions of the leaders of other faith groups to the changes.

For the immediate future, both the governing majority of Socialists, Greens and Liberals and the opposition Christian Socialists have agreed that the Constitution will be amended to include a declaration on the separation of church and state.

[With thanks to Dr Georg Neureither at Religion – Weltanschauung – Recht for the lead]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer & David Pocklington, “Luxembourg moves towards further separation of religion and the state” in Law & Religion UK, 28 January 2015, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2015/01/28/luxembourg-moves-towards-further-separation-of-religion-and-the-state/.

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