Changes to religion law in Austria can benefit other countries
STRASBOURG—Austria’s long history as a progressive pluralistic society will only be enhanced by the most recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights. What is perhaps more important is that the decision of the Court clearly explains that there is no justification for a nationally and internationally well-established religious group, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, to be required to wait some 20 years before being granted legal personality and then another 10 years for their application for recognition as a religious society to be decided.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, although being the fifth-largest religious community in the country, have faced obstacles to giving pastoral care to their members in hospitals, and they have encountered challenges in building their meeting places. Witness children have been placed at a disadvantage in school and training courses and have been ostracized. Thus, while Jehovah’s Witnesses had obtained the status of a religious association, the protracted failure of the Austrian government to recognize them as a religious society resulted in numerous acts of discrimination being perpetrated against them.
Regarding this favorable ECHR ruling, the local spokesman of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Johann Zimmermann, explains: “This positive ruling by the European Court of Human Rights comes after a 30-year effort on the part of Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain the status of a recognized religious society in Austria. During that time, the legal situation required that Jehovah’s Witnesses use different associations to carry out their activities because the Association Law is not designed for religious communities and thus leaves open many areas that need to be defined and regulated.”
With the way open to grant full recognition as a religion to Jehovah’s Witnesses (and potentially other groups), the limitations of being under the Association Law are removed.
Read further information from legal representative Johann Zimmermann as he answers questions regarding the decision of the Court.
Contact in Austria: Johann Zimmermann
Telephone: 0043-1-804 53 45-39; E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org