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Most modern Western societies operate under a broadly secular system of government. Germany is no exception. Among the fundamental features of a secular polity are State neutrality in questions of faith, the absence of a State religion, the toleration of all beliefs (religious or not) and the guarantee of the individual's freedom to believe or not to believe and to exercise his or her religion.
Despite this fundamentally secular orientation of the State, many people have strong feelings about religious issues. Occasionally, these views can trigger heated, emotive and widespread public debate, particularly when the belief systems of different religious groups or of believers and non-believers come into conflict. An extreme example is the worldwide controversy about the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the international press, which even resulted in violence and a number of deaths. Other examples include the debate on introducing Sharia law and on the regulation of displaying or wearing of religious symbols or clothing in public settings in Western countries.
Two questions that touched a nerve in German society were whether the State could require that crucifixes are installed in all primary school classrooms and if a Muslim teacher could wear the Islamic headscarf (hijab) while teaching in a public school. Both of these questions are morally and politically highly controversial. They are the type of questions for which there is no easy answer and where every answer given is bound to have its detractors.