Monday, 16 March 2009

Religion and Exemptions to Military Service

Two Jehovah's Witnesses won their respective cases last week in Strasbourg. In the judgments Gütl v. Austria and Löffelmann v. Austria, the operative parts of which are largely the same, the Court unanimously found a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 9 ECHR (freedom of religion). Both were active members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Austria and performed official functions within the movement (preacher and deacon respectively). When they were called up for military service, they indicated that they were conscientious objectors. As a result, they were called up for civil service instead. They complained that the clergy of recognised religious groups were exempt from both military and civil service, whereas they were not. The Court held that the privilege accorded fell within the wider context of the unjustifiable difference in treatment by the authorities of the Jehovah's Witnesses. It had dealt with this in the case of Religionsgemeinschaft der Zeugen Jehovas and Others v. Austria (July 2008) which concerned the recognition of the group as a religious society. On the latter case, see my earlier post here.