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Seventh-day Adventists in Austria fail in court case over school funding

  • March 2023

The state-registered religious communities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Austria had applied for state subsidies for a private school with public rights in the province of Vorarlberg. This application was rejected in 2019 by the authority in charge, the education directorate, due to the fact that this religious community is not a legally recognised church or religious community in Austria. In response, the German branch of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has turned to the European Court of Justice.

In its ruling of February 2, 2023, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg found the withholding of financial support to be appropriate and legitimate. The European Court of Justice emphasised that it is up to the states to organise their relations with churches and religious communities. Still, the economic activity of religious communities, including the establishment of private schools, could fall under EU law.

In Austria, private denominational schools complement the public educational system. In this context, there is also regulation to ensure that private schools, which are subsidised, serve a significant part of the population. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was granted legal status as a "state-registered religious denomination" on 11 July 1998. This recognition is a prerequisite for full legal recognition as a "legally registered church and religious society". One of the criteria for this is a membership of at least 2 per thousand of the total population, which at the moment would comprise just under 18,000 people. Until now, the recognition of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a legally recognised church and religious society has failed in Austria because the number of members has not reached that level.

Links:
- Statistics Austria – Population at beginning of year/quarter
- Court of Justice of the European Union – Judgement: in English, in French.

D 3 March 2023    ARobert Wurzrainer

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