| Religious Freedom Ranking:
2.5 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
Although the Austrian Constitution guarantees religious freedom and there is little outright persecution against religious minorities, the established religions enjoy a privileged status, including support through the government taxation system. Moreover, the state’s “sect-watching” apparatus criticizes the behavior of smaller groups, while the established groups are exempt from oversight. Proposed changes in the 1998 law on religions create further restrictions by eliminating several groups from the list of officially recognized religions.
Austria has a population of 8.2 million people. Sixty six percent of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. Muslims account for 4.2 percent, Protestants 3.9 percent, Eastern Orthodox 2.2 percent, other Christian denominations 0.9 percent, Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.3 percent, other non-Christian religious groups 0.2 percent, and Jews account for 0.1 percent. Twelve percent of the population is Atheist, and two percent do not report any specific belief.
Article 14 of the Austrian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and creed. Article 15 states that those religious organizations recognized by law shall have the right to public worship, to own property, to retain and maintain funds and to administer their own internal affairs. The status of religious organizations is governed by the 1874 "Law on Recognition" of churches. The government accords legal recognition only to those groups which it determines meet certain religious criteria, will operate in full compliance with the Austrian legal code and will not preach or practice ideas contrary to accepted social customs. The government officially recognizes the Catholic Church and twelve other religious organizations. These groups have the authority to participate in the state collected religious taxation program, to engage in religious education and to import religious workers without securing work or residence permits. They also receive exemption from property taxes. Proposed changes in the law would remove five religions from the current “recognized” list-- Old Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists, Mormons, and the Apostolic Church.
Under the 1998 law, groups that do not qualify to become a state recognized religion can become a “confessional community.” Groups that apply for official recognition are required to have existed for 20 years and have a minimum of 0.2 percent of the population as members, which is approximately 16,000 people. Groups that apply to become a “confessional community” only need 300 members. In 2005 several human rights groups declared that the 1998 law is inherently discriminatory. Only ten groups have been granted the status as a religious “confessional community.”
For non-European Union religious workers, work and residence permits are a necessity. Therefore, some foreign Protestant churches who have failed to be recognized by the government and have thus been unable to send missionaries, teachers or pastors, have had to diminish their activity.
Religious practice is especially difficult for members of new and small religions. The government of Austria has adopted the position that it must protect its citizens from dangerous religious cults and sects. Some minority religious groups complain about second class status because of this, and the government has deemed many of them “sects.” New and small religions in Austria are denied legal recognition and are monitored and harassed by the government. Most of the groups categorized as “sects” by the government have fewer than 100 members except the Church of Scientology, which claims to have between 5,000 to 7,000 members, and the Unification Church which has approximately 700 members in the country.
In the case of the Unification Church, the Austrian government has declared the church to be a "dangerous sect." The church has been denied the right to incorporate and is unable to own property or open a bank account. Police make intrusive visits to members' residences to investigate possible "criminal activities." Children of Unification Church members who attend public schools are forced to listen to teachers denouncing their church as a "dangerous cult."
The Non-Governmental Organization Forum against Anti-Semitism has reported 200 anti-Semitic incidents, including seven assaults in 2009. Furthermore Muslims have also reported discrimination in the country, particularly regarding headscarves and veils. In 2009 the public brought 41 cases of discrimination to the equal rights commissioner.
2010 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Austria
Austria - New World Encyclopedia
Austria Country Profile- BBC News