Press reports regarding the ten years (11 July 2008) as a state-registered religious community and the granting of legal recognition as a religious society:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses Are No Longer A Sect”
Group won recognition through the European Court of Justice. Financed by its 23,200 members.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a state-recognised religious society with immediate effect. This was announced by the spokesperson for the Minister of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs, Claudia Schmied, on Thursday. The decree has been signed and will be published in the Federal Law Gazette. […]
To be recognised as a religious society in Austria, a group must have existed for at least twenty years, ten of which as a registered religious community, and must have at least 16,000 members (two per thousand of the population). A “positive attitude towards the state and society” is also a prerequisite, and funds may only be used for religious and charitable purposes. Jehovah’s Witnesses fulfil all these requirements according to the Ministry of Education.
“Positive signal”: With currently around 23,200 members, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the fifth largest religious denomination in Austria. According to their own statements, they are financed by voluntary donations from believers; the option of levying membership fees, which is now possible, will not be pursued says their chairman in Austria, Johann Renoldner.
The group sees its state recognition as a religious society as a “positive signal that upholds religious freedom and the rights of minorities”. Renoldner said: “For almost a hundred years, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria have been committed to Christian values based on the Gospel. We can now do this even more so as a recognised religion.” The new status will make administrative activities easier in many ways. […]
(WIENER ZEITUNG, 8 May 2009)
[…] The recognition is a “milestone”, said Walter Schneeweiß, board member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, at a press conference on Friday. […] “We have finally achieved the legal status we believe we deserve – in view of our history and because we meet the criteria”, Schneeweiß said. The recognition as a religious society will also send a signal beyond Austria. It is an “important step” that Austria has implemented the July 2008 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, according to which recognition must be possible for every community once the objective criteria are examined. Jehovah’s Witnesses had been fighting for recognition since 1978. […]
(DERSTANDARD.AT, 8 May 2009)
[…] Recognition after 30 years. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active in Austria since 1911. During the Nazi era, they suffered severe persecution. Afterwards, they fought for recognition for decades. It makes the joy all the greater now, says Johann Dumser, spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Burgenland. “We are very pleased that a positive decision has been reached after 30 years of efforts. This serves as recognition for minorities too”, said Dumser. […]
(ORF.AT, 8 May 2009)
“Ten Churches Seek Recognition”
The rise to a “religious society” for Jehovah’s Witnesses is only one milestone. After the recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses, another ten religious communities await state recognition. However, in contrast to Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is one essential legal criterion they fail to fulfil: a minimum of 16,000 members. Nevertheless, the chances of recognition are not bad, as the European Court of Human Rights has declared that the legal situation in Austria violates human rights – also for requiring a minimum number of members.
(DIE PRESSE, 8 May 2009)
“Blessing for Jehovah’s Witnesses. State Recognition Is Secured”
The long wait is over: After ten years as a registered religious community, the recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a state-recognised religious society is secured. […] “We are delighted at this news. Our long efforts to achieve equality with other religious societies have finally come to fruition”, explains Johann Zimmermann, spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses, in an interview with SN. […] According to Zimmermann, society should welcome the recognition […]. The blessing of the state is guaranteed in any event.
(SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN, 7 May 2009)
[…] All criteria fulfilled: Between January and March, the Office of Religious Affairs conducted an evaluation procedure. The criteria included compliance with the law, finances and the fundamental attitude towards the Austrian state. Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to fulfil all criteria. The Ministry of Education has now given the recognition its blessing.
“We are delighted”: The joy amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses is great. “We are delighted that recognition has been granted”, spokesman Johann Zimmermann told wienweb.at/W24. “We see it as a confirmation of what we are, a community that represents Christian values.” He hopes that recognition will make society more open towards his religion. However, the recognition also sends a positive signal to other minorities, whose recognition would constitute a strengthening of religious freedom, he said. […]
(WWW.WIENWEB.AT, 7 May 2009)
[…] State recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious society is only a few days away. […]
According to reports, the Act on Jehovah’s Witnesses has already found its way from the Office of Religious Affairs to Schmied’s cabinet. “We are in the final stages of processing”, a spokesperson for Minister of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs, Claudia Schmied (SPÖ), confirmed on Monday. […]
Schmied’s office went on to say that the “final steps” were currently underway towards recognising Jehovah’s Witnesses. In any case, it will not take much longer. A final positive decision is expected at the end of this week.
Recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses would give the religious society the advantage of appearing publicly with clear legal status, according to the reasons stated in their application.
(KLEINE ZEITUNG, 27 April 2009)
When Jehovah’s Witnesses Become A Church
What does it mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the fourteenth official religious society to receive state recognition in Austria? […]
Is the refusal of blood transfusions now legitimised by the state?
No. Transfusions have already been given to minors – even when their parents refused. Partial custody of those children was simply transferred to the respective hospital. And Jehovah’s Witnesses of age can – like everyone else – refuse treatment with the aid of an advance medical care directive.
Aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses like a sect?
Legally, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been a “state-registered religious community” since 1998 and hence are not a sect. […] One result of recognition will be that the Federal Office on Sect Issues will lose its jurisdiction over the group. […]
Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the state and democracy?
In the preamble to their constitution, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria fully recognise the rule of law and the principle of democracy, as well as democratically elected organs of the state. […]
Will Jehovah’s Witnesses engage in dialogue with other religious societies?
No. Although they treat people of all religions with respect, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not want to engage in ecumenism or interreligious dialogue. They want to continue their religious mission – the proclamation of the Gospel – as before. […]
What are the advantages of being recognised as a religious society?
Jehovah’s Witnesses will become a corporation under public law, which extends privileges such as tax relief, but they will also gain the right to conduct religious education in public schools. The Witnesses do not plan to do this, nor do they plan to levy church membership fees – they want to continue to be supported by voluntary donations from members.
How certain is it that they will receive recognition?
There is no doubt about it. Once the Minister of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs, Claudia Schmied, who is responsible for religious affairs, signs the decree, Jehovah’s Witnesses will become the fourteenth religious society to be recognised in Austria. The documents are still at the Office of Religious Affairs where the final details are being clarified, but everything indicates that the procedure will result in a positive outcome. […]
(DIE PRESSE, 14 April 2009)
Recognition as a religious society in Austria: Jehovah’s Witnesses are standing at the threshold, the Alevis […] are far off. […] The […] Office of Religious Affairs, which is responsible for the recognition of religious societies, did not wish to comment on the applications. However, the imminent recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses has not led others to rush for status as a state-recognised religious society. […]
(SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN, 8 April 2009)
2,000 Citizens of Tyrol Are Waiting for their Witness Church
Jehovah’s Witnesses are about to be recognised as the fourteenth church in Austria. […] Some 1,989 citizens of Tyrol live according to the ideals of this community. “We are all good citizens, so it is only right that we should be treated the same as other religious communities”, insists Walter Hetzenauer, a 54-year-old lawyer from Kitzbühel and a Witness since his youth. […] He and most church experts are anticipating recognition, since the European Court of Human Rights recently condemned discrimination against the Witnesses. Austria must follow the Court’s judgment or completely change its church law.
Positive signals had also come from the Office of Religious Affairs in recent weeks, but these have now been replaced by a wait-and-see attitude. There will certainly be no decision before Easter, said a spokesperson, who added that Jehovah’s Witnesses are “merely a footnote” for the Ministry of Education when it comes to the current media debate on schools and teachers. “We know that this decision is not popular.” Hetzenauer is under no illusions. “But we can’t just bury our heads in the sand either.”
(TIROLER TAGESZEITUNG, 5 April 2009)
Jehovah’s Witnesses about to Receive Recognition as Fourteenth Church in Austria
[…] In achieving this, […] they want nothing other than to bring the Word of God closer to people. Jehovah’s Witnesses are about to be recognised as the fourteenth church in Austria. According to the Ministry of Education, it is only a matter of days. […]
(DER STANDARD, 30 March 2009)
Human Rights: Austria Violates Freedom of Religion
The lack of military service exemption discriminates against Jehovah’s Witnesses. […] Austria must rethink how it treats religious groups – beyond the upcoming recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious society. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has condemned Austria for not exempting an “elder” of Jehovah’s Witnesses from military service, unlike ministers of legally recognised churches (Lang v. Austria, application no. 28648/03). “This is a first step towards a review of the legal system with respect to the factual justification for such unequal treatment”, says Brigitte Schinkele of the Department of Legal Philosophy, Law of Religion and Culture, at the University of Vienna.
It is no longer just the excessively long ten-year waiting period, which even applies to long-standing religious communities, that poses a problem – and Strasbourg also criticised this. Aside from military law, churches, religious communities and their members are also treated differently under tax law and labour law for foreign nationals, depending on whether they are legally recognised or not. “The higher the number of members, the more necessary it will be to review the differentiation”, says Schinkele […].
(DIE PRESSE, 23 March 2009)
For a long time, Jehovah’s Witnesses were considered a quirky sect. Now they are about to be recognised as a religious society. And rightly so.
[…] Since 1978, they have been fighting for the state’s blessing in Austria. However, Austrian officials have not been in a hurry to grant their wish. This is why Jehovah’s Witnesses have only obtained the lesser status of a registered religious community. […] Yet they have long fulfilled all the formal requirements for full recognition as a religious society. Only after a reprimand by the European Court of Human Rights because of the “long waiting period” was the draft decree submitted for evaluation in January. The deadline expires on this coming Monday. No objections are expected from the Office of Religious Affairs: it is merely a legal formality, they say, and recognition could be awarded a few days later. […]
(PROFIL, 23 March 2009)
From Sect to Church
Jehovah’s Witnesses will probably be recognised by the state as a religious society in a few days. This will end the 30-year struggle of a controversial religion. […] The Republic of Austria does not seem to have made any special efforts to improve the status of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was also confirmed in a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights dated July 2008, which criticised the “long waiting period”. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses have fulfilled the requirements for years, which include being active in Austria for at least 20 years, having at least two Austrians out of 1,000 who belong to this religious denomination, and having the ability to establish and maintain a religious community. […] On 23 March, the observation period expires, during which objections against the admission can be submitted. If there are no objections, the official decree of recognition as an official state-recognised religious society will presumably be issued in the subsequent days or weeks. At least the 23,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria can breathe a sigh of relief.
(KLEINE ZEITUNG, 15 March 2009)
Religious Education in Crisis – What should be done? (by Harald Walser)
[…] In Austria, 13 churches and religious societies are currently legally recognised and thus have the right to conduct state-funded religious education in schools. The recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses is imminent. According to their official website, their faith forbids them to smoke. If they teach this in their classes, the state will at least get a little back for its generosity in the form of decreasing health care costs!
(DER STANDARD, 20 February 2009)
Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Verge of Recognition
Jehovah’s Witnesses are about to be recognised by the state as a religious society. Yesterday, the draft decree of the Office of Religious Affairs was submitted for evaluation. According to Anton Stifter from the Office of Religious Affairs, the subsequent eight-week evaluation period is only “formal in nature”. Johann Zimmermann, spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses, also expects recognition to be granted and sees this as “sending a signal to safeguard religious freedom”. […]
(WWW.ORF.AT, 28 January 2009)
Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Verge of Being Recognised after 30 Years
Jehovah’s Witnesses, an international faith community that is not uncontroversial, have been fighting for state recognition as a religious society in Austria since 1978 and are close to their goal. That path led them all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1998, Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted the status of a registered religious community. On Monday, the Office of Religious Affairs sent the draft decree for recognition as a religious society to be evaluated. […]
Persecuted under Hitler: In 1938, there were 550 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria. Because of their refusal to heil Hitler and serve in the military, they were persecuted by the Nazi regime, and about one quarter of the denomination’s followers were killed. After the war, Jehovah’s Witnesses resumed their organised activities. Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted their first request for recognition as a registered religious community in 1978. Numerous requests followed and failed. All domestic legal remedies failed to help the community, which prompted it to file an application with the European Court of Human Rights. In July of last year, the [Strasbourg] judges ruled that the Austrian authorities had violated the freedom of religion enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
(WWW.KRONE.AT, 28 January 2009)
Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Verge of Being Recognised as a Religion
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been a state-registered religious community since 1998. Once ten years pass, every registered religious community has the right to apply for recognition as a religious society. […]
(KLEINE ZEITUNG, 27 January 2009)
State Blessing on Jehovah’s Witnesses (by Anja Kröll)
Religion. Eight weeks separate Jehovah’s Witnesses from state recognition; the first in Austria after 20 years. The long wait is over. […]
“We have been waiting for this moment for 30 years and now believe we can finally close this chapter”, says Johann Zimmermann, spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Postscript: “This decision will finally clear away doubts that many fellow citizens have due to our status.” According to Zimmermann, it is “incomprehensible” why the recognition procedure, which should have resulted in a decision on 11 January, is only now being evaluated.
Precedent case. The Office of Religious Affairs justifies the delay, insisting upon a “precise examination of the facts”. After all, this is the first recognition procedure since the Registered Religious Communities Act came into force in 1998 – “a precedent case”. Apart from missed deadlines, one fact remains undisputed: the imminent recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be the first time in 20 years that a religious community in Austria has received the blessing of the state. […]
Stephan Djundja from the Department for Ideological Issues in the Archdiocese of Salzburg also sees the equality of Jehovah’s Witnesses as thoroughly positive: “Jehovah’s Witnesses will receive certain rights, but also obligations as a result” […].
(SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN, 27 January 2009)
Jehovah’s Witnesses as the Fourteenth Church in Austria
The Office of Religious Affairs is evaluating the decree. The result will be revealed in eight weeks. The change would give Jehovah’s Witnesses many advantages in terms of taxation and pastoral work. There are thirteen recognised churches and religious societies in Austria – soon there could be fourteen. Jehovah’s Witnesses are about to receive state recognition as a religious society. […]
Religious education and property-tax exemption. Theoretically, objections can be raised during the evaluation period, for example, by government ministries. However, the Office of Religious Affairs does not expect this to happen; the evaluation is more of a “formality”, says Stifter. It serves primarily to inform government ministries, since Jehovah’s Witnesses will also receive new rights with the recognition, such as religious education in schools, exemption from property tax and chaplaincy in hospitals and army barracks.
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not wish to avail of all rights. According to Zimmermann, religious education in schools is not planned at present, and military chaplaincy is unnecessary because their followers do not serve in the military. On the other hand, they want to exercise the right to offer pastoral support in hospitals, and they also hope for some relief regarding places of worship, “because sometimes there were problems with building our Kingdom Halls in the past”.
(DIEPRESSE.COM, 27 January 2009)
Witnesses on the Verge of Being Recognised as a Religion
The draft decree is currently being evaluated – after 30 years of struggling, it is obviously just a matter of time.
(OE24.AT, 27 January 2009)
Jehovah’s Witnesses Fight for Justice (by Stefan Beig)
Recognition as a religious society is delayed. First a sect, then a registered religious community, finally a religious society: this is the “career” of a faith community in Austria. One of them – Jehovah’s Witnesses – should already have reached its goal. But now the Office of Religious Affairs within the Ministry of Education is delaying the recognition that is already overdue. […]
In order to become a religious society, and thus a corporation under public law, Jehovah’s Witnesses approached the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned Austria on 31 July 2008 for its inaction. Richard Potz, Head of the Department of Religious Law at the University of Vienna, described this decision as a “shattering defeat for Austria”.
The Office of Religious Affairs had until 11 January to grant recognition, but again nothing happened. “We find the tardiness of the Austrian decision-makers incomprehensible”, says Johann Zimmermann, spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria. The official reason is that an evaluation procedure by representatives of other religious societies is still pending: “This is how it has always been done so far”, said the office of Education Minister Claudia Schmied.
Potz is not satisfied. “In truth, this has never happened before. Incidentally, I find the idea of consulting other religious societies unconstitutional. It won’t hold up in Strasbourg.” There is also incomprehension from Reinhard Kohlhofer, the lawyer defending Jehovah’s Witnesses: “This is another step towards procrastination. The authorities must grant recognition when all legal requirements are met. The opinions of other religious societies are completely irrelevant.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have announced that they would submit the facts to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Another possible legal step could be a complaint to the Supreme Administrative Court due to the failure to issue a decision.
(WIENER ZEITUNG, 22 January 2009)