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GERMANY: Religion

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Christianity is the major religion, with Protestants (particularly in the north and east) comprising 33% of the population and Catholics (particularly in the south and west) also 33%. In total more than 55 million people officially belong to a Christian denomination, although most of them take no part in church life except at such events as weddings and funerals. Most German Protestants are members of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Independent and congregational churches exist in all larger towns and many smaller ones, but most such churches are small.

Roman Catholicism was the sole religion of the country in the 15th century, but the Reformation changed this drastically. In 1517 Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church as he saw it as a corruption of Christian faith. Through this, he altered the course of European and world history and established Protestantism.

Before World War II, about two-thirds of the German population was Protestant and one-third was Roman Catholic. In the north and northeast of Germany especially, Protestants dominated. In the separated West Germany between 1945 and 1990, Catholics had a small majority.

In eastern Germany both religious observance and affiliation are much lower than in the west after forty years of Communist rule. The average church attendance is one of the lowest in the world, with only 5% attending at least once per week, compared to 14% in the West according to a recent study. The number of christenings, religious weddings and funerals is also lower than in the West.

About 30% of the total population are officially religiously unaffiliated. In the East this number is also considerably higher.

Approximately 3.7 million Muslims (mostly of Turkish descent) live in Germany. This figure includes the different denominations of Islam as well as religions thought to be forms of Islam by most Germans who are even aware of them, such as Alevites. Lately there have been heated discussions about the question of whether Muslim women working in public service, such as schoolteachers, should be allowed to wear headscarves to work or not.

Besides this there are a few hundred thousand Orthodox Christians (mostly Greek and Serbian immigrants), 400,000 New Apostolic Christians, numerous other small groups. The government of Germany does not accept Church of Scientology's claim to be a religion but asserts that it is a business entreprise and as such denies tax exemption. Scientology is also generally considered a totalitarian cult. This however does not restrict the group's activities in Germany. This classification has led to complaints in the United States of America, but the United States Congress did not pass a resolution in 1997 related to "discrimination by the German Government against members of minority religious groups" that mentioned only Scientology-related examples of discrimination.

Today Germany, especially its capital Berlin, has the fastest growing Jewish community worldwide. Some ten thousands of Jews from the former Eastern Bloc, mostly from ex-Soviet Union countries, settled in Germany since the fall of the Berlin wall. This is mainly due to a German government policy which basically grants an immigration ticket to anyone from the CIS and the Baltic states with Jewish heritage, and the fact that today's Germans are seen as significantly more accepting of Jews than many people in the ex-Soviet realm. Some of the about 60,000 long-time resident German Jews have expressed some mixed feelings about this immigration that they perceive as making them a minority not only in their own country but also in their own community; but largely the integration seems to be working out. Prior to Nazism, about 600,000 Jews lived in Germany, most of them long-time resident families.

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