1 May 2018 | Germany’s Deutsche Welle public broadcaster reported that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that religious employers advertising jobs can be scrutinized by European courts for religious discrimination. This ruling contrasts with historic safeguards that gave religious employers autonomy in their hiring practices.

According to the ECJ’s ruling, churches can only demand denominational allegiance if the job description made the requirement “significant, legal and justified.” European courts can now decide on a case-by-case basis whether religious employers have appropriately applied their religious ethos to job candidates.

The landmark ruling comes after a controversial case brought by Vera Egenberger, an anti-discrimination expert who claimed she was passed over for a job at Diakonie, a development agency belonging to Germany’s Protestant EKD church, because she did not confess the required faith. Egenberger was applying for a contract to review Germany’s compliance with the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. She argued that her rejection for the job went against the EU’s charter and its equal employment directive.

Diakonie responded to Egenberger’s claims saying that it could treat job candidates in different ways due to exceptions allowed in the EU directive and the EU treaty both of which provide safeguards for churches and religious organizations. The Berlin Labor Court ruled that Egenberger had suffered discrimination and awarded her a fifth of the 10,000 euros ($12,300) in damages that she sought. The case was then brought to Germany’s Federal Labor Court in Erfurt, which in turn submitted questions to the ECJ.

Dr. Harald Mueller, a lawyer who directs the Institute for Religious Freedom at Germany’s Friedensau Adventist University, commented on the ECJ decision to tighten regulation of religious institutions’ hiring practices. He said that the decision made future limitations on religious freedom more likely. He argued that the decision encroached upon freedoms that Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court afforded religious institutions.

According to the Adventist denomination’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, there are over 35,000 Adventists in Germany as well as 558 churches.

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