Principality of Liechtenstein Plans Separation of Church and State
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Vaduz/Principality of Liechtenstein, 13.11.2007 / APD

Liechtenstein plans to reorganize the relationship between Church and State. Prime Minister Otmar Hasler has presented a concept for disentangling Church and State. Constitutional amendments and new laws will govern the new relationship between the State and the various religious communities.

Under the Constitution of the Principality of Liechtenstein, which entered into force in 2003 after a popular vote on a partial revision, the Roman Catholic Church continues to enjoy a special status. The Roman Catholic Church is explicitly designated the “national church” and enjoys “the full protection of the State”. The question of the status of the Roman Catholic Church was omitted from the decade-long constitutional debate, which focused on the power relationship between monarchy and democracy. The separation or disentanglement of Church and State nevertheless remained a topic of concern over the past ten years, especially upon establishment of the Archdiocese of Vaduz.

As Prime Minister Otmar Hasler emphasized in his presentation of the reform concept, Liechtenstein society, the composition thereof, and also the religious environment have changed substantially over the past decades. A disentanglement of Church and State and a reform of civil ecclesiastical law would be in the interest both of the State and of the Roman Catholic Church. The State, the population of which belongs to different religious groups, has an interest in conducting itself neutrally with respect to the individual religions, in order to send a clear signal that freedom of religion also means freedom from the State. On the other side, the Roman Catholic Church has also changed, especially since the Second Vatican Council distanced itself from the State and emphasized the institutional independence of the Church from the State and politics.

The concept presented by Prime Minister Otmar Hasler for a restructuring of civil ecclesiastical law envisages an institutional separation of Church and State. None of the recognized religious communities will henceforth be integrated in the organizational structure of the State, and therefore will also not be subject to State supervision. The reform package contains a constitutional amendment, a Religion Act governing the relationship of the State with the religious communities under public law, and a model for State contributions to their funding. The concept envisages that the following religious communities will have independence under public law and their own legal personality: The Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church, and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. All other religious communities will in principle be entitled to recognition under public law, provided that they meet certain essential criteria such as recognition of the existing legal order of the State and respect for religious peace, and if they enjoy a certain level of social significance.

For the funding of the religious communities recognized under public law, the Government proposes a two-pillar model. On the one hand, the possibility should exist for the religious communities to receive financial support and benefits from the State for services they perform for the collective good. On the other hand, the voluntary contributions made by taxpayers via income and property tax constitute the core of religious funding, which however does not provide for a church tax per se. In concrete terms, this model means that taxpayers will henceforth be able to decide whether they want to allocate part of their income and property tax to one of the religious communities under public law or not. If not, the tax amount in question will be made available to the general State budget.

With this concept, the Government also includes the municipalities in the disentanglement of Church and State. In the past, the municipalities have borne a large share of the costs arising from the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the remuneration of members of the clergy and maintenance of church infrastructure. The historically evolved performance obligations of the municipalities will be resolved in separate disentanglement negotiations.

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