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Thou shalt not shop

The Local · 3 Dec 2009, 15:33

Published: 03 Dec 2009 15:33 GMT+01:00

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It was just another Tuesday, but Germany’s Christian churches had a reason to let their bells toll this week. In the name of religious freedom, they won a major victory at the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe against the heathen city of Berlin.

It had to be Berlin – a godless place that has ditched compulsory religion classes for schoolchildren and would like to prohibit prayer in school buildings. But the churches now have it from the highest judicial authority in the country – Berlin’s secular push has gone too far. Advent Sundays in the run-up to Christmas are holy and shops must remain closed. If there are to be any exceptions, then only to prove the rule that stores in Germany do not open on the seventh day of the week.

Department store clerks, trade unionists, church-goers and anyone with a family might welcome the ruling, but it’s annoyingly provincial to many retailers, stressed-out shoppers, non-Christians and plenty of average people with or without families. At the end of the day, it’s probably a compromise that everyone can live with. Crowded Saturday shopping during the holiday season will just have to do, as it did in the past.

Although the ruling’s rather miniscule effect on Berlin’s economy and familial bliss deserves little attention, one aspect should raise plenty of concern: How is it that Switzerland’s recent prohibition on minarets can be seen as an affront to religious freedom, but in Germany we allow churches rather than a democratically elected government tell us what to do with our Sundays? What happened to the religious freedom of those citizens who don’t believe in the Christian ideal of the Sabbath and would rather go to the shops than church?

The place to go for answers from now on is Karlsruhe, home to the Constitutional Court. No-one should underestimate the legal gymnastics required to reach this decision. According to the constitution, Sunday is a day to rest and rejuvenate the soul. There’s not a single word about God or Christmas or even the birth of Jesus. And no wonder – Sunday was never holy to the German constitution, which is why no-one could claim it was in the name of religion.

But that’s all changed now. The Constitutional Court’s decision refers directly to the Christian roots of resting on Sundays, constructing a legal precedent for the churches. If politicians from one of Germany’s 16 federal states want to re-think their retail shopping hours, it might now be a good idea to stop by the local bishop’s place to see if they have his blessing first. But how do you reconcile that with the right to a neutral, secular government? This is the real reason three Constitutional Court judges rejected the ruling. Had it been just one more, Berliners could have kept their Sunday shopping during Advent.

The topic of store opening hours might be banal, but the court ruling fundamentally changes the state’s relationship between religion and law. This happens to cut to the core of the endless debate about integration of Muslims in Europe.

Story continues below…

Germany’s top justices have suddenly made the country’s constitution rather pious. But considering it’s not only Christian citizens that have a right to religious freedom, this should be the only time they are given preferential treatment.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

03:37 December 4, 2009 by CalBill
You have to differentiate between actual religious laws and laws based on a "Christian"/western culture where Sunday traditionally happens to be the "day of rest". Also, let's not ignore the fact that many labor/union organizations have fought Sunday shopping for years and that that has nothing to do with religion but rather worker's rights. Compare this to the medevil strictures put forth by sharia law and you can see how secular/democratic people might want to limit the power of those who seek to destroy democratic/non-Islamic institutions.
09:20 December 4, 2009 by So36
Sure the trade unions are happy about it, but the author's point is that the high court misguidedly used religion to back up its ruling and the case was brought by churches. He points out that everyone will probably go along with it, but It creates a rather dangerous legal precedent. Religious freedom indeed - but only if you're a Christian. A modern, democratic republic should have a clear distinction between church and state, but Germany, which already has state-backed tithing, is going in the completely wrong direction. What a complete mess.
11:02 December 4, 2009 by ryhntyntyn
Jost Müller-Neuhof is reaching a bit. The Churches aren't the ones who will make the decision and tell shopkeepers they can't be open on Sundays. The the churches don't make or enforce the decision. The BVG, which is appointed by the democratically elected government does, on behalf of the constitution at the request of any Plaintiff (in this case the church).

That's a bit different from "being told" by the Church that they have to keep closed.
11:30 December 4, 2009 by hkypuck
What is it that some think that an alternative to the ruling would REQUIRE people to work on Sundays. It wouldn't!

If the court had ruled differently this would provide shop owners AN OPTION to open on Sunday. If you were a particularly 'hardcore' Christian shop owner you could still keep the shop closed, but if you weren't you have the option (some might say "freedon") to open.

Give the people a choice!!

fight the power!...but not on Sunday, that's the day to rest up for the fight...
10:55 December 7, 2009 by Gaffers
We in the West are not tolerant of religions unless it is the Christian faith. People demand the right to religious freedom but only if it is Christianity. When in Muslim countries we see religion determining policy we fight against it but allow our churches to influence policy too. The extreme here is the US but it happens in Europe. The Swiss vote and the Sunday trading show the influence of Christianity is high.

It is considered wrong to attack someone elses religious views and ridicule them for being superstitious mumbo jumbo but as an Aethiest I have no such protection. I have to be subject to the rulings which go against my beliefs.

Anyone that argues this is not religion related is misguided. Sunday is the Christian sabbath. That is why it is being protected. Why not make it Saturday? That way everyone still gets their rest and the Jewish religion have their day of rest.
12:01 December 7, 2009 by kent
kicking and screaming the high court drags its feet in denial of reality.

the seventh day holy ?HA!

how utterly IGNORANT !!!!

the seven days are named for the seven major endocrine glands of the human body, which developed into archaic religious practices which we know as Christianity Judaism islam Hinduism etc etc

they referred to these parts of the body as CHAKRAS/TAGS/LATIFAS/the GODS Zeus Apollo Odin Hera Donner/Thor etc etc.



the court to allow ancient archaic STONE AGE PREHOISTORIC beliefs to dictate rules of law and business is absolutely unbefitting an educated society of civilized people.


it seems as if the judges who sit on the court never actually went to college,how unlearned(sic) of them.

it is high time that stone age knuckle dragging cretins are thrown off the court and OUT of the political process.

what is so amazing is that these so-called faiths are nothing more than CULTS that sell snake oil lies with no foundation in reality.
14:49 December 7, 2009 by ibth123
I am off every Sunday and go shopping. If it was closed, I'd do it some other day. They should leave the Sunday alone just because at least the majority of the people can enjoy being off and being with family.

If the day in Germany would be taken, what about Daycare than? And everything else that go's with it?

People should enjoy their Sunday as long as they can.

Oh by the way, the all around the clock shopping brings a lot of danger. We have stores robbed in the middle of the night, people killed. Every bigger shopping center has to have security walking and watching. And the malls close at 9 PM, other stores at 10 PM anyway.

I never go shopping in the middle of the night. I sleep. :-)
18:30 December 8, 2009 by hansestaat
ibth123 ..i totally agree with you !!! you are so right!!
22:48 December 8, 2009 by ECSNatale
Don't Tread On My Sundays!

Blame churches, blames whomever you please... I escaped the crazy 24/7 culture in America and love the fact that this society places some value on quiet, peaceful Sundays.

I could care less about religion, give me my paper, my coffee, and the right not to be called to work.

Karlsruhe you did the right thing. Tell everyone else to shove it or go the Hell back to whereever it is they came from and shop there.

Better yet. Use your damn internet to shop on Sunday in the quiet of your own home. Then thank whatever entity you wish for the fact that you are there and not required to work.
08:26 December 10, 2009 by ovbg
What I find so odd about German shops staying closed on Sundays is that it is such a double standard in Germany. Shops are the only business not allowed to operate on Sudnays. Every other one can. Whether we are talking about Cinema's, Cafe's, Restaurants, Gas Stations, Tourist Offices, Theme Parks, Museums, Galleries, Buses, Trains, Airports, Radio Stations, Television, Taxi's, Factories, Kiosks, Bakeries and even office workers can pop in to their desks to catch up when needed.

But shops stay open... oh no, that is unfair on those workers. If it is so unfair on those shop workers, why is it not unfair on all the others mentioned above? And before anyone suggests those are essential services, please explain how a cinema or pub is more essential than buying groceries for your children.

I work on Sundays myself on a shift rotation in the internet industry. It's just a job afterall.

The other unmentioned thing is the Internet itself is 24/7. If people can't shop on a Sunday they maybe likely to order off the Internet which is unfair for the real shops. In an environment where shops are struggling enough as it is, should this really be allowed?

I come from a country where shops are open 7 days a week and it bothers few. If you don't want to shop on Sunday, don't. But it's the perfect day to shop for many people. Shops also don't have to open if they don't want to, it's a choice, not a rule.
11:26 December 11, 2009 by Melmarino
Hypocrisy a bother to you? Please don't reside in Germany.

Religious freedom is a principle strongly believed here. So long as the religion is a Christian one.

Kind of like the Swiss with the minarets...or the French with the headscarves...Do as we say, not as we do is the prevailing edict.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move it along.
22:04 December 11, 2009 by Kazenra
I'm not religious in any way, I sometimes go on against how against it I am.

But this story really gets to me, what's wrong with having shops closed on Sunday? It always used to be that way. My mum explained to me how stress free and special sundays used to be, you didn't have to worry about what couldn't be avoided. If the shops were closed there was nothing you could do, you didn't have to go to work you could just relax.

Sundays used to be stress free and people had time to do other things not rushing around with work or last minute shopping.

Bank Holidays aren't special any more, people still work on them, the shops aren't closed. It's just another day, like Sunday. Like the rest of the week.

As far as I'm concerned, it won't be long before Christmas goes the same way. People work on Christmas day now.

It's not right, maybe everyone should go back to this way of living. It was so much better that way.
06:42 December 12, 2009 by ovbg
@Kazenra, it's a very good point you make. However, we don't live in the past anymore. Does it really make any difference if shops are actually open on Sundays? If you don't want to shop, if you want to keep Sunday a day of rest, then as a fully sentinent, capable and responsible adult can you not simply choose to do so. Do we really need a law to tell us if we choose to shop or not on a specific day?

If we have a law that stops people from shopping on a Sunday, to force people into having a day of rest because people are not capable of choosing to do so without a law, then maybe we should make it a true day of rest. People should also then be banned from going to the cinema. In fact, why stop there, let's also ban restaurants and cafe's from opening on Sunday, include the bars as well, and the tourist attractions, art gallery's and museums. Let's make it fair on the retail stores and ban internet shopping on Sunday's. Then again, the Internet is not really needed, so let's shut that down along with Sunday Television and Radio, afterall, TV is not conducive to quality family time anyway.

I find it ironic that on a Sunday we can't buy food to fill our fridge but we can buy hard core porn from the internet. The green grocer down the road is not allowed to open, because it is morally wrong to make staff work that day, even if it is just himself, yet the cafe next door is packed with customers and earning much needed funds. Morally wrong and illegal to buy cake and a coffee from shop A) but totally acceptable to buy cake and a coffe from cafe B)

I ask this. Do the people here who oppose shops opening on Sundays ever visit any other businesses on a Sunday? Do they go to the cinema or a gallery, do they watch TV at home? Do they use electricity? All this requires people to work Sunday.
19:13 December 15, 2009 by pumba
those who want to participate their beliefs should do it, nobody is detaining you.

it's wrong that those, who want others to share their religion, are able to change the law.

if you really want to practice your estimation, just do it.

if you want to rest home every sunday because it's the right way for you to live religiously just do it.

just stay home and don't go shopping. is it so hard?

the issue here is just that the christians want to affect non-christians to become like they are.--> RELIGIOUS!

realize this, they affect whole Germany with it.

just keep your belief in your self, no one is interested in it.

!religion is no business that buys new fans, it's a PERSONAL issue with god(s).!
02:41 December 16, 2009 by Thames
The law keeping most businesses closed on Sundy is in the German Constitution which was strongly influenced by the Christian Poltical Parties. With this law in place Germany was able create one of the greastest economic turn arounds in world history and maintain respect for the German traditions of religious, family and communal life. For those who hate the influnece of the Christian Churches, you can not legitmately deny the fact that Christianity has helped make Europe the great continent that it is. Every past effort to remove religion from public life has failed. If you remove the Christian religion from Europe it will be replaced with another. If Chritianity is replaced in Europe it will be by Islam. If you don't like the Catholics or the Evangelicals, maybe you will develope an affinity for Islam. Not being able to wait one day to buy some useless gadget will be the least of your concerns.
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