Last Updated 19 June 2023

Austria is a democratic Republic with an elected Federal President and a Democratic parliament. Following Presidential Elections in October 2022, Alexander Van der Bellen was re-elected for President on a 56.7% majority.1 He is a member of the Greens Party, which advocates for environmentalism and equal social justice.2

According to the 2021 census, 77.6% of the population report religious affiliation. The majority of the population are Roman Catholic (55.2%), other groups include Protestants, Muslims, Jews together accounting for 12.2% of the population. The non-religious and unaffiliated accounted for the second largest proportion of the population (22.4% up from 12% in 2001). The statistics suggest that affiliation with a religious denomination is declining.3

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Austria has established legal protections for the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and religion. These protections are enshrined in the Austrian Federal Constitution,4 which serves as the supreme law of the country. In 1964, the European Convention on Human Rights became part of Austrian Constitutional law thereby incorporating the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and also guaranteeing this right to churches and religious communities in conjunction with the right of association.5

In addition to the Constitution, the Austrian Criminal Code6 criminalizes hate speech and other forms of incitement to violence or discrimination based on religion, belief or other personal characteristics.

Recognized religious groups

A Kirchenbeitrag or ‘church tax’ must be paid by all members of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. It is operated by the churches, not by the state, however, it can only be avoided by terminating membership of the relevant church.7

The law governing relations between the government and the Catholic Church makes various Catholic holidays official national holidays.

The Federal Law on the Legal Position of Religious Communities in Austria provides a legal framework for the recognition of religious communities by the state and outlines their associated rights and responsibilities.

According to the US State Department,8

“The law divides registered religious groups into two officially recognized legal categories: legally recognized churches and religious societies (referred to here as “religious societies”) and state-registered religious denominational communities (referred to here as “confessional communities”), with the latter enjoying fewer obligations and privileges. Separately, religious groups not qualifying for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become associations, a status applicable to a broad range of civil society groups.”

The non-religious are not currently among the list of 16 legally recognized religious societies. However, the law does not appear to preclude organized non-religious groups from seeking recognition.9

Legal recognition affords such societies:10

  • The right to engage in several public or quasi-public activities, such as government-funded religious instruction in both public and private schools;
  • Tax relief;
  • Exemption from payment of a surveillance charge;
  • Exemption from payment of administrative fees for municipal services;
  • Greater autonomy from government scrutiny;
  • receive government funding for pastoral care provided in prisons, hospitals, senior homes, and military installations with the amount of funding based on the size of the society’s membership.

Separate laws govern relations between the government and each of the religious societies.

Confessional communities (of which there are currently 10), and religious associations are not eligible for the financial and educational benefits available to religious societies. However confessional communities are not required to pay taxes on donations. Associations may not offer pastoral care in hospitals or prisons or receive tax-deductible contributions.

A new “Campus of Religions”

According to the US State Department:11

“The city of Vienna continued work on the “Campus of Religions,”, which it financed and launched in 2019 and expected to complete in 2028. The campus was planned as a site where members of nine religious groups could conduct their own activities while working together and engaging with the general public. Campus participating groups were: the Catholic Church; the Protestant Churches of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions; the Orthodox Church; the Jewish Religious Society; the Islamic Religious Society; the New Apostolic Church; the Buddhist Union; the Hindu Religious Community; and the Sikh Faith Community.”

The official website of the Campus indicates that critics of religion will also be welcomed.12;

Education and children’s rights

The government funds religious instruction in public schools and places of worship for children belonging to any of the 16 officially recognized religious societies.13 The government does not offer such funding to other religious groups.

Attendance at religious instruction of their respective religions 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 religious groups. Some schools offer ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction.14

Religious education and ethics classes include the tenets of different religious groups as comparative religious education.15

The curriculum for both public and private schools includes compulsory tolerance education, including religious tolerance, as part of civic education across various subjects, including history and German-language instruction.16

Family, community and society

Religious minorities

According to the US State Department, religious minorities – particularly Jews and Muslims, are frequent victims of hate crimes. In 2022, there were also reports of vandalism of a range of places of religious worship. The government implements a legal framework to protect against Antisemitism and hate crimes, some of which have been criticized for unduly curtailing freedom of expression.17

The government demonstrates some bias against the Muslim community, funding a documentation center dedicated to monitoring religiously-motivated political extremism – The Documentation Centre Political Islam (DPI).18 The organization publishes reports on extremist groups, as well as maintains an “Islam Map” that lists all Islamic institutions in the country. Critics of the map believe it to be stigmatizing and have suggested that its existence could indicate that Muslim activities must be monitored.

Additionally, the law stipulates that funding for the day-to-day operations of mosques must be derived from domestic sources, Islamic teachings and practices must not violate federal law (compliance is determined by the Office for Religious Affairs), and Islamic institutions should “take a positive stance” toward the state and society.19

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is enshrined in law, and generally respected in practice. However, criminal defamation legislation is reportedly often used to stifle criticism of politicians.20 In addition, there are concerns that current legislation designed to curb hate speech, may not satisfactorily strike the balance between the State’s duty to protect citizens from hate speech with an individual’s right to freedom of expression.

Media freedom

The 1981 Federal Act on the Press and other Publication Media (Media Act)21 and the Federal Constitution provide the framework for media freedom in Austria. The media is subject to political influence. This is best exemplified by the Kurz Media scandal, which revolved around the former Chancellor purchasing positive media coverage from a private newspaper, in the lead up to elections.22 This scandal led to Kurz’s resignation and his exit from Austrian politics.

De facto blasphemy law

Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code, called ‘Vilification of Religious Teachings’, criminalizes: “Anyone who publicly disparages a person or thing that is the object of worship of a domestic church or religious society, or a doctrine, [or other] behavior is likely to attract legitimate offense…” This de facto ‘blasphemy’ law has been used in practice to prosecute and fine individuals.

In October 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the 2011 conviction under this law of Elizabeth Sabaditsch-Wolf (see “Highlighted cases” below), declaring that freedom of expression can be legitimately restricted by states “to ensure the peaceful co-existence of religious and non-religious groups and individuals under their jurisdiction by ensuring an atmosphere of mutual tolerance”. 23E.S vs Austria, ECHR, 

In its examination of Article 188, the Court determined that the provision does not criminalize all statements that may hurt religious feelings but only conduct that causes justified indignation and so threatens religious peace, and was therefore met with the State’s obligations to balancing one’s right to freedom of expression with its duty to take action when the peaceful co-existence of religions is threatened.24

The ruling has caused concern in that it appears to permit all states under its jurisdiction that have existing blasphemy laws to maintain and enforce However, in 2019 the case was cited by the ECHR in reaching its determination that the Republic of Azerbaijan violated the right to freedom of expression of two journalists by imposing criminal sanctions for allegedly inciting religious hatred and hostility. In this case, the court determined that the authorities had failed to strike the appropriate balance between the right to freedom of expression and the duty to protect.26

Highlighted cases

On 1 June 2022, the Vienna Administrative Court reportedly rejected an application for registration as a confessional faith community of the Religious Atheist Society of Austria (Atheistische Religionsgesellschaft in Österreich – ARG).27 The decision was reportedly justified its decision on the basis that the organization represented a “worldview” rather than religious community, and that the ARG’s conception of transcendence is insufficient for a religious community, because it does not refer to those realms that are outside of all conscious, plannable and immanent experience, and which are the subject of a “different” reality. The ARG has appealed this decision to the Constitutional Court. Other secular groups reportedly criticized the ARG for making an application, as it would imply complicity with the state system.28; /

On 15 January 2011, Elizabeth Sabaditsch-Wolf was convicted of offending religion because she exclaimed, about the Prophet Mohammed’s nine-year-old wife, “If that is not paedophilia, what is it?” Her case would go on to form the basis of a European Court of Human Rights ruling in October 2018 that Austria had the right to enforce its ‘blasphemy’ law (see “De facto blasphemy law” above).


8, 10, 11
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19
23 E.S vs Austria, ECHR, 
28; /

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