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In order to support the recognition process in Austria that had been dragging on for decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

Four applications were filed by the religious community and three others by individuals due to discrimination against religious ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with military and civilian service.

ECtHR Applications Filed by Jehovas Zeugen in Österreich

ApplicationApplication no.ReasonJudgment
27.2.199840.825/98 Decades-long practice of non-recognition and the resulting discrimination of a religious minority31.7.2008
22.4.200515.040/05Ten-year waiting period for recognition as a religious society23.1.2009, declared inadmissible
20.7.200527.540/05Discrimination against ministers who speak another language25.9.2012
15.11.200627.540/05Taxation of donations25.9.2012

Jehovah’s Witnesses filed their first application with the ECtHR in reaction to the decades-long practice of non-recognition and the resulting discrimination they faced as a religious minority. In its judgment, the ECtHR ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses were placed at a disadvantage when compared to recognised churches, since Austrian religious law violated the European Convention on Human Rights. On 2 February and 2 March 2009, Jehovah’s Witnesses informed the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe that the Austrian administrative authorities were continuing the practice of discrimination and had not implemented the judgment.

The second application addressed the discrimination that arose from the 1998 Act on the Legal Status of Registered Religious Communities. The ECtHR later declared this application inadmissible, as the underlying legal issues were essentially the same as those in the judgment of July 2008.

The third application addressed discrimination against ministers who speak another language. A fourth application dealt with the unlawful taxation of donations. On 25 September 2012, the ECtHR judgment confirmed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were subject to discrimination.

ECtHR Applications Filed by Religious Ministers

ApplicationApplication no.ReasonJudgment
Minister Löffelmann,
filed on 10.7.1998
42.967/98 Discrimination in military/civilian service12.3.2009
Minister Gütl,
filed on 25.5.1999
49.686/99Discrimination in military/civilian service12.3.2009
Minister Lang,
filed on 26.8.2003
28.648/03Discrimination in military/civilian service19.3.2009

Three religious ministers filed applications to address their second-rate position when compared to ministers of recognised churches and religious societies. In its judgments, the ECtHR ruled that these ministers experienced discrimination because they were denied rights and privileges granted to clergy of other churches and religious organisations.