The path of anti-discrimination repeatedly blossoms afresh

In one of the most highly regarded legal journals in the World, the Harvard International Law Journal, two Australian legal scholars, Carolyn Evans and Betha Gaze, within the framework of a research project on religious freedom financed by Australian tax payers, discussed whether it might be time to force the Catholic Church to introduce the ordination of women in the name of human rights. At the minimum, ‘patriarchal religions’ should lose their non-profit status (p. 43) and above all should no longer receive state support in any form whatsoever (p. 46) if they do not adjust to existing legislation. Their basic demand is that all religious institutions conform to the valid anti-discrimination guidelines in the same way that every company does. In the process they do not, however,  plead for a heavy-handed anti-discrimination ordinance that gets in front of religious freedom or vice versa. Rather, they are in favor of achieving an informed balance whereby there can be a sophisticated differentiation in order to recognize where religious freedom is a central issue and should be given priority and where it should not.

I am an Evangelical and not a Catholic. For that reason I share neither the Catholic view that the office of the priesthood is a dispenser of grace nor that priests remain unmarried and take a vow in that connection. From an Evangelical point of view the, ordination of women already occurs de facto in parts of the Catholic Church, since increasingly often there are degreed female theologians who preach – only the administration of the sacraments is reserved for priest.

Nevertheless I do not want such changes within the Catholic Church to be forced on the Catholic Church by the state, even in cases where the respective changes personally appeal to me. This is due to the fact that such changes should originate out of conviction and be theologically justified. They should not occur as the result of coercion. The state would do well to let the Church address its own affairs as is set down in the German Constitution. For who knows what the state is then going to want to force me, or us, to change? And since current states are continually expanding their interference into new areas of life and everyday issues (one can for instance compare the famous and symptomatic statement of former SPD General Secretary Olaf Scholz: “We want to achieve ‘air supremacy’ over our cribs!”), lobbying groups are continually adding new alleged human rights to the old classical ones, and anti-discrimination laws are being defined by law. They are being made into political issues and being made criminal issues, and no one can know what a religious group is going to have left to decide on its own.

In Berlin the ethics instruction given in schools that evaluates religions and what it is about them – above all in terms of ethics – that they possess that is commendable or objectionable, is carried out by the state and the world view of atheistic humanism that is propagates (for instance from the Humanist Union). It is often the case that this approach is pursued so that Muslims hear a non-fundamentalist viewpoint and can easily be integrated. Participation in classes with this state-based view is obligatory, but participation in classes for the religious community of which one is a part is not. Muslims are not brought into a dialog with adherents of other religions. Rather, by the grace of the state they are integrated into the acceptable ‘across the board religion’.

Let us just think to the logical end about the idea the two authors present: In plain language this means as a consequence that religious communities – in line with the prohibition against discrimination – may no longer ‘discriminate’ on the basis of religious affiliation when they choose employees. In so doing they discriminate against themselves and the whole thing stands on its head. A Buddhist monastery would out of principle have to allow a Muslim’s application at its abbot. A mosque would have to allow a spiritist a job interview for the position of muezzin. If this were to be applied to political parties, what would be the result? In the future, would the CDU have to accept SPD campaigners upon request, because they would otherwise discriminate against them? Would a car dealer have to employ green party bicycle fans who scare away the customers since these sales people would otherwise feel discriminated against?

The anti-discrimination discussion always brings forth more and more amazing blossoms. The times when anti-discrimination laws and their implementation truly brought more freedom and justice to democratic countries are a thing of the past. The exceptions are several younger democracies which have pent-up demand. Instead of that, the discussion has become a playground which continuously heightens the tension and mistrust in society but does not lead to a situation where people actually regard each other with more respect.

Carolyn Evans, Beth Gaze. “Between Religious Freedom and Equality: Complexity and Context”. Harvard International Law Journal 29 (2008): 40-41,



  1. Marco S. says:

    Sehr geehter Herr Prof. Dr. Schirrmacher,

    Sie haben Recht, daß es in der katholischen Kirche in Einzelfällen zu Predigten von Diplom-Theologinnen, d.h. Laien, kommt. Diese Laienpredigt ist jedoch grundsätzlich verboten (Instruktion “Redemptionis sacramentum”, Nr. 161). Ihr Schluß von in Einzelfällen widerrechtlich vorkommender Laienpredigt auf eine de facto in der katholischen Kirche vorkommende Frauenordination erscheint mir vor diesem Hintergrund sehr verwegen. Hinzu kommt, daß man angesichts der Amts- bzw. Weihetheologie der katholischen Kirche wohl kaum davon sprechen kann, daß einzelne Pregigten einen Laien schon zum Priester machen.

    Mit freundlichen Grüßen

    Marco S.

  2. admin says:

    Danke für die Korrektur. Natürlich macht eine Predigt noch niemanden zum katholischen Priester oder evangelischen Pastor. Allerdings dürfte die regelmäßige Wortverkündigung im evangelischen Bereich doch wesentlich zentraler für das Amtsverständnis sein. Wo ich sicher falsch schließe, ist von meiner Erfahrung in der Bonner Gegend auf den Rest der katholischen Welt. Ich werde mich mal aktiv umhören, wie das so im weiteren Umfeld ist.

    Thomas Sch.

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