Religion is in terminal decline in many European countries, so I was surprised to learn that 59% of the German population are registered Christians. I am surprised it is as high as it is, but it has been declining sharply this year. And that is directly because church and state are not separate. Like many European countries, Germany requires church members to pay an income tax levy on behalf of the churches.
$13.2 billion dollars were collected on behalf of Christian churches last year, and that is not pocket change. But, as reported in an article by Chase Gummer in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the churches wanted more. Capital gains had been taxable, but tax enforcement had been ineffective. The churches pressed for measures to make enforcement more efficient. But they should have been more careful about what they wished for. In response to the new measure, the number of Germans leaving the Protestant and Catholic churches is twice as much as last year and the highest in twenty years!
Jose Casanova, a prominent sociologist of religion, has argued that the failure to separate church and state in Europe has been a significant factor in its decline. James Madison would not have been surprised at that. Moreover, the German tax is not supported by all Christians in Germany. The evangelical so-called free churches rely on donations rather than taxes for their financial support. One pastor said this is crucial to the building of a “living congregation” and for freedom in how to worship. Another Protestant pastor, said, “The tax has nothing to do with the gospels.”