Recognition Made Easier for Austrian Churches
Vienna – There is good news for the small free churches of Austria still making do without official recognition: Austria’s Constitutional Court in Vienna has overthrown the requirement for a 20-year waiting period. Austrian legislation has until now stipulated that a religious community must have practised its religion for a 20-year-period, and have had the status of a ‘confessional fellowship’ for 10 years, before it can be recognised as an official religious community. These stipulations have now been declared unconstitutional. Such time limits conflict with the right to non-discrimination in the practice of religion.
The successful complaint had been filed by the Federation of Evangelical Congregations and the Mennonite Free Church. Yet neither will be able to profit from the ruling. A further stipulation stating that registration will only be granted if two-tenths of one percent of the population (roughly 16.000 persons) have become members remains in place. Only the Alevi (a Muslim group of Turkish origin) with 60.000 members in Austria would be able to pass this test.
Pastor Walter Klimt, General-Secretary of Austria’s Baptist Union, noted at a legal conference in Vienna on issues involving Austrian religious legislation, that his own church, which has a global membership of 120 million, is one of the world’s largest Reformation churches. The Baptists have also been active in Austria for 141 years. They nevertheless have no chance of achieving the status of a state-recognised religious community. Twenty-five congregations with roughly 1.500 members make up the Baptist Union of Austria.
At the same conference, Vienna church jurist Professor Richard Potz reported that for the foreseeable future ‘confessional fellowships’ have no reasonable chance for gaining the status of religious community. He criticised the membership stipulation of 16.000 as far too high. He reminded listeners that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg/France has repeatedly censured the Austrian government in this regard. A revision of presence law is therefore needed. Potz called on recognised churches, the Roman Catholics and Lutherans in particular, to take the initiative and propose solutions which are in agreement with basic human rights.
Austria currently has 14 officially-recognised religious communities. ‘Confessional fellowships’ include the Baptists, Adventists and other conservative evangelicals.