The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has rejected the government’s appeal against its ruling condemning the 2012 Hungary church law, HVG Online reported.
As the ruling brings the earlier decision into force, the Hungarian government has two choices: either pay HUF 7 billion (USD 28.6 million) compensation to the seven small churches who brought the case, or make special arrangements with them.
The court upheld its April decision that Hungary had violated Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights on freedom of speech, thought and conscience with its law when depriving churches of their status and state funding. By that time the Hungarian Constitutional Court had also nullified the 2012 law.
The April 8 ruling found that the Fidesz government “had not shown that there were no other, less drastic solutions to problems relating to abuse of state subsidies by certain churches than to de-register the applicant communities. Furthermore, it was inconsistent with the state’s duty of neutrality in religious matters that religious groups had to apply to Parliament to obtain re-registration as churches, and that they were treated differently from incorporated churches with regard to material benefits, without any objective grounds.”
The ruling remarked that even though Hungary’ Constitutional Court found the Church Law unconstitutional and the 2013 amendments had allowed non-listed churches to officially call themselves such, the law still required them to register at Parliament to get the same status as “historic churches”.
The Strasbourg court agreed with a Venice Commission report on the act, saying “it was an excessive requirement for a religious entity to have existed as an association internationally for at least 100 years or in Hungary for at least 20 years”. The court added that the state’s neutrality requires that the official recognition of churches was based on ascertainable criteria.