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Lessons from Germany and Canada.

When reporters asked German novelist Heinrich Boll if he was still a Catholic, the Nobel laureate responded, "Fiscally, yes." Boll had just lost his case before the Federal Republic's highest court in a challenge to the country's burdensome century-old church tax.

The 9 percent church surtax on the federal income taxes of all registered Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in that country yielded about $11 billion in 1996. Since Germany's population is a little less than a third of that of the United States, a comparable tax in this country would yield over $35 billion annually. Germans may avoid the church tax only by using a legal procedure to sever connections with the religious body in which they were raised. When East Germany, which did not have a church tax, merged with West Germany several years ago, many Ossies (East Germans) opted out of their churches to avoid the tax.

Germany's church tax is not only used to pay the salaries of ministers, priests, and rabbis but also for church construction and an array of church-run social programs, including day care, kindergartens, counseling, hospitals, and religion teachers in public schools. However, rising unemployment, now over 11 percent, has cut church tax revenues and is leading to program and staff cutbacks.

A group of German seminarians recently complained in a dissident newspaper that "the greatest danger for the churches is not primarily financial but rather the anonymity and unapproachability of its functionaries." The group argued that, if churches relied on voluntary donations, as in the United States, they would be more popular. Catholic church officials, however, said it would be difficult for the church to get by without coerced public support.

Meanwhile in Canada, Newfound-landers voted 73 percent to 27 percent this past September to convert the province's costly costly, ineffective, tax-supported church school system to a religiously neutral and integrated U.S.-style public school system (see my November/December 1997 column) -- a reform recently approved by both houses of the Canadian Parliament. Now Catholic church officials and the Pentecostal Assemblies -- "partners in public misan-thropy," according to Michael Harris in the Ottawa Sun -- are back in court trying to have the referendum invalidated.

Meanwhile, a University of Toronto study show increasing opposition to Ontario's 130-year-old policy of providing public funding for public and Catholic private schools but for any other private schools. The poll found the 38 percent of respondents favor public funding for public schools only and 23 percent favor support for all schools, while 33 percent support the current arrangement. A separate, though unscientific, entific poll by the Ottawa Citizen found that 81 percent of respondents favor a single school system that provides opportunities for religious instruction.

With Ontario schools facing financial problems, increasing attention is being paid to the wastefulness of operating two separate school systems. A Ministry of Education study shows that eliminating the dual school system would save more than $200 million annually. An estimate by the Friends of Public Education (Box 613, Harrow, Ontario NOR 1GO) puts the possible savings at $350 million annually.

In April 1997, by the way, Friends of Public Education asked the United Nations Human Rights Committee for a ruling on the legality, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of public funding in Ontario for the schools of one Christian denomination rather than treating all children equally in a single integrated public school system.

In, other developments, both houses of parliament have approved the unanimous vote of the Quebec National Assembly to replace that province's denominational school systems with schools based on language (French or English). While most people in the mainly French-speaking province are nominally Catholic, church influence there has almost disappeared.

Finally, an Ontario court ruled in December that tax-supported Catholic schools in the province may discriminate against non-Catholic teachers in hiring and promotions.

The lessons from Germany and Canada should be painfully obvious: separation of church and state is the best possible arrangement for protecting individual liberty of thought, religion, and conscience; for preserving social harmony and democratic government; and, to be blunt, for saving money.
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Title Annotation:separation of church and state
Author:Doerr, Ed
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Words:681
Previous Article:Trivial pursuits.
Next Article:Humanism and unitarian universalism.
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