Freedom of Religion in Austria - Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

See also: Societal abuse and Religious discrimination

There was a report of a physical attack against a person and a violent attack against property (see Anti-Semitism). There was no reported vigilante action against members of religious minorities. However, some societal mistrust and discrimination continued against members of some unrecognized religious groups, particularly against those considered to be members of sects. A large portion of the public perceived such groups as exploiting the vulnerable for monetary gain, recruiting and brainwashing youth, promoting antidemocratic ideologies, and denying the legitimacy of government authority. There were occasional television/radio shows and reports featuring victims, or relatives and friends of such victims, who claimed to be exploited by a group termed a "sect," or a Satanic or esoteric movement. During 2006 there were 32 cases of discrimination based on religion brought before the Equal Rights Commissioner. Some observers believed the existence of and the activities of the Federal Office of Sect Issues and similar offices at the state level foster societal discrimination against minority religious groups.

Members of groups that the Government considers to be "sects" continued to complain that the Government lacks an objective stance when dealing with them. The "sects" claimed that the Government relies too heavily on isolated cases of persons who have had negative experiences with a group, rather than speaking directly to the vast majority of members who make no complaint. Societal prejudice could also be a problem; a poll in 2006 found that 90 percent of Austrians believed sects are "inherently dangerous."

The Church of Scientology reported that individual Scientologists experienced discrimination in hiring in the private sector. Jehovah's Witnesses complained about a brochure issued by the Christian Trade Unionists that mischaracterized the Witnesses as a sect.

In a guidebook for doctors working at schools, the Jehovah's Witnesses are listed as one of the confessional communities in the country but are also listed as a sect.

Muslims complained about incidents of societal discrimination and verbal harassment. Muslim women reported difficulties in the job market when potential employers learned they wore a headscarf. In 2004 the Equal Treatment Bill that implemented the EU Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Racism Guidelines took effect, allowing such victims to take action in court. Women who wore the headscarf also reported that they experienced harassment in public areas.

In October 2006 graffiti crosses were painted on the walls of the Muslim cemetery under construction in Vienna's Liesing district. During the campaign for the October 1, 2006, national parliamentary elections, the Islamic Community also noted anti-Islamic slogans from the right wing Freedom Party.

Compulsory school curricula provide for anti-bias and tolerance education as part of the civics education and as a focus across various subjects, including history and German classes. The Ministry of Education also conducts training projects with the Anti-Defamation League in this context.

Relations among the 13 officially recognized religious societies are generally amicable. Fourteen Christian churches, among them the Roman Catholic Church, various Protestant confessions, and eight Orthodox and old-oriental churches were engaged in a dialogue in the framework of the Ecumenical Council of Austrian Churches. The Baptists and the Salvation Army have observer status in the Council. The international Catholic organization Pro Oriente, which promotes a dialogue with the Orthodox churches, was also active in the country.

At the end of the reporting period, construction continued on the new Islamic cemetery in Vienna's Liesing district, which was expected to be completed in late 2007. An Islamic cemetery was also scheduled to be opened in the state of Vorarlberg in late 2007.

On December 6, 2006, stories in the press and the BBC reported on a study conducted by political scientists at the University of Vienna about Muslim extremism in Vienna that found that 97 percent of young Muslims participating indicated that violence had no place in spreading Islam. On September 22, 2006, in reaction to the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam, the Catholic Church and the Muslim Community organized a "Day of Dialogue" in contrast to the "Day of Wrath" proclaimed on Al Jazeera for the same day. On March 22, 2006, a new interreligious platform for tolerance was presented to the public. Billed as an "initiative for a cooperative future in Austria," the group, "Christians and Muslims," seeks to promote tolerance and respect by encouraging Christians and Muslims to learn more about each other's faiths and each other. Subsequently, Jewish representatives also joined the platform.

Holocaust education was generally taught as part of history instruction, but also was featured in other subjects under the heading "political education (civics)." Religious education classes were another forum for teaching the tenets of different religions and overall tolerance. Special teacher training seminars were available on the subject of Holocaust education. The Education Ministry also ran a program through which Holocaust survivors talked to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.

Read more about this topic:  Freedom Of Religion In Austria

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