European Court of Human Rights vindicates Jehovah’s Witnesses in France
STRASBOURG, France—Today the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government of France violated the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it attempted to impose a retroactive 60% tax on all religious donations made by Jehovah’s Witnesses in France between 1993 and 1996.
In total, the French government sought to obligate the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of France to pay 58 million Euros (over $82,000,000 US), which far exceeds all the assets of the Association. No other major religion in France has ever been submitted to such excessive taxation.
The unanimous court decided that the government’s actions violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. It ruled that the contested tax resulted in the Association’s essential funding having been cut, and thus it was no longer able to guarantee to its followers the free exercise of their religion in practical terms. The tax threatens the survival or at least seriously interfered with the internal organization, the operation of the association and its religious activities. The court also found that because the law relied upon by the tax authorities in France was imprecise and its application had not been sufficiently foreseeable, the violation of the Witnesses’ religious freedom could not be justified.
Throughout this case, Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that the discriminatory taxation had been imposed with the purpose to cripple the worship practiced by over 123,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France. It was one of the many steps taken by anti-sect parliamentarians to mischaracterize and marginalize Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today’s decision by the court sends a strong message to the government of France that it must uphold the right to religious freedom for all its citizens.
Members of the religious community living in Louviers at the Association’s headquarters obviously welcomed the news of the victory. “We have always been confident that our position in this matter was correct. It was unjust for the government to use taxation as a weapon against the fifth largest religion in France,” said Michel Blaser, president of the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of France. Mr. Blaser also noted, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are scrupulously honest when it comes to paying taxes. The donations Jehovah’s Witnesses give to their religion should not be taxed any more than the offerings to any other church. This case is a victory for the human rights of all who live in France and hopefully will mark the end of religious harassment for residents of France who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
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Source: JW Media