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Church tax is a tax imposed on members of some religious congregations in Austriamarker, Denmarkmarker, Finlandmarker, Germanymarker, Icelandmarker, Swedenmarker and some parts of Switzerlandmarker.


About 70% of church revenues come from church tax. This is about 8.5 billion (in 2002).

Article 137 of the Weimar Constitution of 1919 and article 140 of the German Basic Law of 1949 are the legal basis for this practice.

In Germany, on the basis of tax regulations passed by the communities and within the limits set by state laws, communities may either
  • require the taxation authorities of the state to collect the fees from the members on the basis of income tax assessment (then, the authorities withhold a collection fee), or
  • choose to collect the church tax themselves.

In the first case, membership in the community is entered onto a tax document (Lohnsteuerkarte) which employees must surrender to their employers for the purpose of withholding tax on paid income. If membership in a tax-collecting religious community is entered on the document, the employer must withhold church tax prepayments from the income of the employee in addition to other tax prepayments. In connection with the final annual income tax assessment, the state revenue authorities also finally assess the church tax owed. In the case of self-employed persons or of unemployed taxpayers, state revenue authorities collect prepayments on the church tax together with prepayments on the income tax.

If, however, religious communities choose to collect church tax themselves, they may demand that the tax authorities reveal taxation data of their members to calculate the contributions and prepayments owed. In particular, some smaller communities (e.g. the Jewish Community of Berlinmarker) choose to collect taxes themselves to save collection fees the government would charge otherwise.

Collection of church tax may be used to cover any church-related expenses such as founding institutions and foundations or paying ministers.

The church tax is only paid by members of the respective church. People who are not member of a church tax-collecting denomination do not have to pay it. Members of a religious community under public law may formally declare their wish to leave the community to state (not religious) authorities. With such a declaration, the obligation to pay church taxes ends. Some communities refuse to administer marriages and burials of (former) members who had declared to leave it.

The money flow of state and churches is distinct at all levels of the procedures. The church tax is not meant to be a way for the state to directly support churches, but since expenses for church tax are fully deductible in fact such support occurs on a somewhat large scale.

The church tax is historically rooted in the pre-Christian Germanic custom where the chief of the tribe was directly responsible for the maintenance of priests and religious cults. During the Christianization of Western Europe, this custom was adopted by the Christian churches (Arian and Catholic) in the concept of "Eigenkirchen" (churches owned by the landlord) which stood in strong contrast to the central church organization of the Roman Catholic church. Despite the resulting medieval conflict between emperor and pope, the concept of church maintenance by the ruler remained the accepted custom in most Western European countries. In Reformation times, the local princes in Germany became officially heads of the church in Protestant areas and were legally responsible for the maintenance of churches. Not until the 19th century were the finances of churches and state regulated to a point where the churches became financially independent. At this point the church tax was introduced to replace the state benefits the churches had obtained previously.

Taxpayers, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant or members of other tax-collecting communities, pay between 8% (in Bavariamarker and Baden-Württembergmarker) and 9% (in the rest of the country) of their income tax to the church or other community to which they belong.

For example, a single person earning 50,000 euro may pay an average income-tax of 20% thus 10,000 euro. The church tax is then 8% (or 9%) of that 10,000 euro: 800 (or 900) euro.


The members of Folkekirken pay a church tax, which varies between municipalities, but can be as large as 1.51%. The tax is generally in the vicinity of 1% of the taxable income. The tax doesn't cover the entire budget of the church an additional 13% is paid by the government, this means even people who are not members of the church finance the church though taxes.


The members of Church of Sweden pay church tax, which varies between municipalities, but can be as much as 2%. Church and state are separated as of 2000, however the burial tax (begravningsavgift) is paid by everyone regardless of membership.

In a recent development, the Swedish government has agreed to continue collecting from individual taxpayers the annual payment that has always gone to the church. But now the tax will be an optional checkoff box on the tax return. The government will allocate the money collected to Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths as well as the Lutherans, with each taxpayer directing where his or her taxes should go. It is possible to leave the church with the help of a web page [176696].


Church tax is compulsory in Austria.


There is no official state church in Switzerland. However, all the 26 cantons (states) financially support at least one of the three traditional denominations-- Roman Catholic, Old Catholic (in Switzerland Christ Catholic), or Evangelical Reformed --with funds collected through taxation. Each canton has its own regulations regarding the relationship between church and state. In some cantons, the church tax (up to 2.3%) is voluntary but in others an individual who chooses not to contribute to church tax may formally have to leave the church. In some cantons private companies are unable to avoid payment of the church tax.


All members of either the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church (the two state churches of Finland) pay an income-based church tax of between 1% and 2%, depending on the municipality. On average the tax is about 1,3%.

Formerly, to stop paying church tax, one had to formally leave the church by personally going to local register office and waiting during an allowance of time for reflection. This requirement has since been removed, and currently a written statement to the church suffices. It is also possible to leave the church via a web page [176697]. However, if one is member of church when year begins, he/she must pay taxes for whole year.


Taxpayers in Iceland are obligated to pay a congregation tax (Icelandic sóknargjöld) to the recognized religious organization of their choice. Those who do not belong to any recognized religious organization pay the same amount to the University of Icelandmarker. The Church of Iceland receives governmental support beyond the congregation taxes payed by its members.

See also


  1. The politics of appointments to protestant theological faculties in Germany: the case of professor Erich Geldbach
  2. Gehaltsrechner-Brutto-Nettolohnrechner Wage calculator (German)
  3. Iceland Iceland profile - USA, State department

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