This section gives a detailed overview of the efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses to achieve legal recognition. It also provides access to the most important original documents in the recognition process.
On 25 September, Jehovah’s Witnesses first applied for recognition as a religious society under the 1874 Recognition Act (Anerkennungsgesetz).
The Office of Religious Affairs also failed to process a second application for recognition filed on 22 June.
The head of the Office of Religious Affairs informed Jehovah’s Witnesses by telephone that, in his opinion, the legal requirements for recognition were met. The application was still being processed.
The responsible department denied ever receiving the application, and so a new application was filed along with all documents. During that same period, university professor, Dr Peter Leisching, published his opinion paper entitled “Recht der Zeugen Jehovas auf Anerkennung als Religionsgesellschaft in Österreich”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses filed an application with the Federal Constitutional Court to repeal a paragraph of the 1874 Recognition Act as unconstitutional because the administrative authorities were using it to avoid issuing a formal decision.
The Federal Government submitted a new statement upon the request of the Federal Constitutional Court, which then rejected the application because Jehovah’s Witnesses had already fulfilled the criteria for the right to recognition. The Supreme Administrative Court should adapt its case law to that of the Federal Constitutional Court. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court against the failure of the authorities to issue a decision.
The Supreme Administrative Court rejected the complaint, leading Jehovah’s Witnesses once again to turn to the Federal Constitutional Court.
The Federal Constitutional Court issued a decision dismissing the application. On the advice of the Federal Constitutional Court, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with said Court in order to provoke a jurisdictional conflict and enable said Court to impose its legal opinion on the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Federal Constitutional Court quashed the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision of 22 March 1993 because that Court wrongly declared that it lacked jurisdiction. It also determined that a religious community has a right to recognition under the 1874 Recognition Act if the legal requirements are met. The principle of the rule of law demands that such a right also be enforceable. The recognition procedure was resumed.
The binding decision of the Supreme Administrative Court concurred with the legal viewpoint of the Federal Constitutional Court and ordered the Office of Religious Affairs to decide on the application of Jehovah’s Witnesses within eight weeks. This was the third time it was requested to do so.
On 21 July, the Office of Religious Affairs denied the application, stating that Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be recognised owing to their unclear internal structure and negative attitude towards the state and its institutions. In the 120 years of the Recognition Act, this was the first time an application for recognition was denied.
As that decision was erroneous for several reasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged a complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court. University professor, Dr Heinz Mayer, published his legal opinion.
The Act on the Legal Status of Registered Religious Communities (Bekenntnisgemeinschaftengesetz) entered into force. Jehovah’s Witnesses were immediately recognised as a religious community and registered on 11 July. They could now call themselves a “state-registered religious community”.
Despite their recognised legal status, the Office of Religious Affairs again denied their application for recognition as a religious society.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) received its first application from Jehovah’s Witnesses and an application from Philemon Löffelmann, a religious minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses filed complaint against the denial of recognition with the Federal Constitutional Court. Furthermore, the ECtHR received an application from Markus Gütl, a religious minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses and member of their religious order.