The controversial “Islam Law” has received a stamp of approval from Austria’s Constitutional Court (VfGH), who said it raised “no constitutional concerns”. In the ruling (Mar 21), the court dismissed complaints made by two imams expelled from the country for violating the law.
Originally passed in March 2015, the law aims to insulate religious communities from interference or financial support by foreign states and their institutions, and “promote the idea that one can be both a practicing Muslim and a proud Austrian.”
The imams had filed suit in response to the government’s decision (June 2018) to shut down seven mosques, which it said were “illegally” funded by the Turkish government, evicting dozens of religious leaders in the process. “Parallel societies, politicized Islam or radical tendencies have no place in our country,” said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) in a news conference following the events.
Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) supported the latest decision, seeing it as “on the right track, with [concrete] measures against radical political Islam.”
The Turkish community protested: It was a “serious blow to Muslim life in Austria,” said the ATIB (Turkish Islamic Union in Austria), while the IGGÖ (Islamic Religious Community in Austria) announced it would take the case to the European Court of Justice. With over 65 mosques across Austria, ATIB claims the ban damages the quality of care and education they are able to provide their community members.
The law however, did address these issues: In a clause given little publicity, it established Austria’s commitment to academic religious education for potential imams at Vienna University, while encouraging the communities to rely on “domestic financial support” to ensure local relevance and societal integration. The complaints will now be transferred to the Administrative Court to determine any rights violation.
The case is also has wider implications: If foreign funding is determined to interfere with the freedom of religion guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights, the rule may also apply to Christian, Jewish or other religious communities.