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Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949/ Amendments 1956)

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany was adopted by the Parliamentary Council on May 8, 1949, and ratified during the week of May 16-22, 1949, by the legislatures of more than two thirds of the participating German Länder. It comprised more than 140 articles, most of which laid out the operative framework of the political system and the rights and duties of individual organs. Given the experience of the recent past, the first nineteen articles of the Basic Law [Grundgesetz] were devoted to safeguarding basic rights. Likewise, Article 20 – which pronounces the “democratic” nature of the Federal Republic and asserts that “all state authority emanates from the people” – must also be read against the backdrop of German history. Because West Germans wanted to keep the door open for the eventual realization of national unity, they regarded this “Basic Law” as only provisional. As stated in the preamble, its purpose was “to give a new order to political life for a transitional period.” It was hoped that the Basic Law would be replaced one day by a pan-German constitution. On October 3, 1990, more than forty years after the Basic Law was promulgated, Germany finally achieved national unity and the Basic Law became the constitution for the whole nation.

[Please note: the official version of the Basic Law was written in German. The following English translation was approved by the Allied High Commission. Inconsistencies in style and spelling have not been corrected.]

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Conscious of its responsibility before God and Men, animated by the resolve to preserve its national and political unity and to serve the peace of the World as an equal partner in a united Europe, the German people, in the Länder Baden, Bavaria, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, Württemberg-Baden, and Württemberg-Hohenzollern, has enacted, by virtue of its constituent power, this Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany to give a new order to political life for a transitional period.

It has also acted on behalf of those Germans to whom participation was denied.

The entire German people is called on to achieve by free self-determination the unity and freedom of Germany.

I. Basic Rights

Article 1

(1) The dignity of man is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.
(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights to be the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.
(3) The following basic rights bind the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary as immediately enforceable law.

Article 2

(1) Everyone has the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral code.
(2) Everyone has the right to life and to inviolability of his person. The freedom of the individual is inviolable. These rights may be encroached upon only pursuant to a law.

Article 3

(1) All persons are equal before the law.
(2) Men and women have equal rights.
(3) No one may be prejudiced or favored because of his sex, his parentage, his race, his language, his homeland and origin, his faith or his religious and political opinions.

Article 4

(1) Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom of creed, religious and secular (weltanschaulich) are inviolable.
(2) The undisturbed practice of religion is guaranteed.
(3) No one may be compelled against his conscience to render military service as an armed combatant. Details will be regulated by a federal law.

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