"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, alone or in community with others, and, in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
Article 18 of the Universial Declaration of Human Rights:
Saturday, 2 July 2011
AUSTRIA: New Proposed Law on Religion causes Public Outcry
Proposed Changes to the Religion Law in Austria Represent a Major Step Backwards in Defiance of Court Mandates
Alexandria, VA - July 1, 2011 - In an ongoing trend of legislative restrictions on religious freedom, proposed revisions to the 1998 Austrian Law on the Status of Religious Confessional Communities (1998 Law) would perpetuate a system that violates fundamental human rights.
The 1998 Law treated minority faiths and their parishioners as second class citizens not entitled to the rights, privileges and protections afforded favored faiths. Rather than remedy the defects in the law as mandated by the European Court of Human Rights and the Austria Constitutional Court, new legislation has been proposed that will propagate the inherent human rights inequities in the law and, for some religions, make matters worse. The regressive, rather than progressive, nature of the amendments is extremely disappointing.
Instead of facilitating equal treatment of all religions, the proposed changes to the 1998 Law would deny recognition to some currently recognized religions and continue the moratorium for other religions not currently recognized as "religious societies". These provisions are in direct defiance of judicial decisions by the European Court of Human Rights regarding these provisions, as well as OSCE and UN standards.
The proposed amendments to the law will implement: a) a three-tired system found discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights; b) retroactive "de-registration" of recognized religious groups, which violates the Rule of Law; and c) repressive membership and duration requirements.
The proposed law is scheduled to be taken up in Parliament on 6 July 2011.
Currently, there are 14 recognized religious communities in Austria. According to reports published this week by FOREF, five religions currently recognized under the 1998 Law -- Old Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists, Mormons, and the Apostolic Church -- would lose that status if the proposed law is enacted.
In the opinion of THE INSTITUTE, this represents a major step backwards for religious freedom in Austria. It is surprising and distressing that a country that is the seat of major human rights institutions such the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is choosing to turn its back on human rights commitments it is obliged to follow.
The full THE INSTITUTE analysis on the Austrian amendments can be found here.