The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The government is secular. The government is a vocal advocate for religious freedom in international organizations.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.
The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against a church, religious society, or group because of its race, nationality, or ethnicity if that incitement poses a danger to public order. It also prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against these groups if it violates human dignity.
The law does not restrict religious clothing or symbols in the workplace. The government generally forbids headwear in official identification but makes an exception for religious purposes as long as the face is sufficiently visible.
The status of religious organizations is governed by the 1874 Law on Recognition of Churches and the 1998 Law on the Status of Religious Confessional Communities, which establishes the status of “confessional communities.” Religious organizations are divided into three legal categories (listed in descending order of status): officially recognized religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. Each category of organization possesses a distinct set of rights, privileges, and responsibilities.
There are 14 officially recognized religious societies: the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches (Lutheran and Presbyterian, called “Augsburg” and “Helvetic” confessions), Muslim community, Old Catholic Church, Jewish community, Eastern Orthodox Church (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, and Bulgarian), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), New Apostolic Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Methodist Church of Austria, Buddhist community, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Recognition as a religious society under the 1874 law has wide-ranging implications, such as the authority to participate in the mandatory church contributions program, provide religious instruction in public schools, and bring religious workers into the country to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers. Under the 1874 law, religious societies have “public corporation” status. This status permits them to engage in a number of public or quasi-public activities that are denied to confessional communities and associations. The government provides religious societies, but not other religious organizations, with financial support for religious teachers at both public and private schools.
The Law on the Status of Religious Confessional Communities, passed in 1998, imposes criteria on religious groups seeking to achieve religious society status, although it allows previously recognized societies to retain their status. To be recognized as a religious society, religious groups must have membership equaling 0.2 percent of the country’s population (approximately 16,500 people) and have been in existence for 20 years, at least 10 of which must have been as an organized group and five as a confessional community. Only five of the 14 recognized religious societies (Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) meet this membership requirement. The law was amended in August to provide an exception for religious groups that have been active internationally for at least 100 years and have been active in organized form in the country for 10 years. In past rulings, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) criticized the waiting period for recognition as well as the separate standards, benefits, and privileges applied to religious societies and other groups. Some religious groups criticized the length of existence clause as being biased against new religions.
The law allows religious groups that are not recognized as societies to seek official status as “confessional communities” without the financial and educational privileges available to recognized religious groups. In order to apply, groups must have at least 300 members and submit to the government their statutes describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members, as well as membership regulations, officials, and financing. Groups must also submit a written version of their religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any previously recognized religious society or religious confessional community. The Ministry of Education then examines the doctrine to ensure that the group’s basic beliefs do not violate public security, public order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Once recognized by the government, a religious confessional community has juridical standing, which permits it to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in its own name and contracting for goods and services. A religious group that seeks to obtain this new status is subject to a six-month waiting period from the time of application to the Ministry of Education.
Eleven groups constitute religious confessional communities according to the law: the Baha’i Faith, Baptists, Evangelical Alliance, Movement for Religious Renewal--Community of Christians, Free Christian Community (Pentecostalists), Pentecostal Community of God, ELAIA Christian Community, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindu Religious Community, Mennonites, and the Alevis. The Education Ministry rejected the Movement for Religious Renewal--Community of Christians’ application for recognition as a religious society in 2009. After the Constitutional Court denied an appeal in 2010, the group filed a complaint with the ECHR, which was still reviewing the case at year’s end.
Religious groups that do not qualify for either religious society or religious confessional community status may apply to become associations under the Law of Associations. Associations have juridical standing and have many of the same rights as confessional communities, such as the right to own real estate within the parameters of the law on associations. Some groups organize as associations even while applying for recognition as religious societies. The Church of Scientology, the Unification Church, and a number of smaller groups are organized as associations.
There are no restrictions on missionary activities; however, unrecognized religious groups in the past reported some problems obtaining residence permits for foreign religious workers. Unlike workers for religious societies, religious workers for unrecognized groups apply for a general immigrant visa that is neither employment- nor family-based and is subject to quota.
The government provided funding for religious instruction in public schools and places of worship for children belonging to any of the 14 officially recognized religious societies. The government did not offer such funding to other religious groups. A minimum of three children is required to form a class. In some cases, religious societies decided that the administrative cost of providing religious instruction was too great to warrant providing such courses in all schools. Attendance in religious instruction is mandatory for all students unless they formally withdraw at the beginning of the school year; students under the age of 14 require parental permission to withdraw from instruction. Instruction takes place either in the school or at sites organized by the religious groups. Some schools offered ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction.
Compulsory school curricula provide for anti-bias and tolerance education as part of civics education and as a focus across various subjects, including history and German language instruction. Religious education and ethics classes were another forum for teaching the tenets of different religious groups and overall tolerance.
Holocaust education was generally taught as part of history instruction but was also featured in other subjects (such as civics). The Ministry of Education conducts training projects with the Anti-Defamation League. Special teacher training seminars were available on the subject of Holocaust education, and Holocaust survivors talked to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.
The government strictly enforces its anti-neo-Nazi legislation, which prohibits neo-Nazi acts, including Holocaust denial, incitement of neo-Nazi activity, and the glorification of National Socialism. Due to the country’s history during the National Socialist era, there is strong opposition to relaxing the law banning Holocaust denial.
The government provides police protection for Jewish community institutions.
Prisoners who belong to religious groups not recognized as societies are entitled to pastoral care.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Epiphany, Good Friday (Protestants only), Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi Day, Assumption Day, All Saints’ Day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Christmas Day, and Saint Stephen’s Day.