ECHR rules Austria religion law violates human rights

ECHR rules Austria religion law violates human rights

STRASBOURG—Today, the European Court of Human Rights released a decision concerning religious law in Austria. The Court stated that Austrian religious law violates the European Convention on Human Rights. Two religious confessional communities had complained about being discriminated against in comparison with recognized churches. Preliminary to this decision, Austrian legal experts had also strongly criticized the present legal situation.

In the opinion of the Court, Austria violates the applicants’ right to freedom of worship by adhering to the two-tier system in its religious law, which creates a class of inferior religions and, consequently, a class of inferior citizens. This leads to a discrimination that is not compatible with the character of a pluralistic and democratic society.

Said Johann Zimmermann, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses: “By making this decision, the Court takes an important step. In neighboring countries like Germany, Italy, and Hungary, Jehovah’s Witnesses are legally recognized. Only in Austria has this legal status thus far been withheld from them. The Court’s decision affects not only the two applicants but also many other religious communities. For example, Baptists and Hindus are not legally recognized in Austria either. Their members are discriminated against in various ways by law only because of their belonging to a nonrecognized church.”

In Austria the decision has special impact as the European Convention on Human Rights is part of the Austrian constitution. The legislature is now required to react and to adjust the present legal situation.

Contacts:
German-speaking contact, Austria: Johann Zimmermann
Telephone: 0043-1-804 53 45-39; E-Mail: legal@at.wtbts.org

English-speaking contact, United States: Gregory Allen, Associate General Counsel
Telephone: 845-306-0711

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