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European court awards damages to seven Hungarian churches

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Monday ordered the Hungarian government to pay reparation damages to seven small Hungarian churches. The Strasbourg court found that the laws implemented by Parliament in 2012 had caused significant monetary damages to the churches, and in an earlier decision found that the laws infringed on two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A number of religious communities lost their status as registered churches when the law came into effect. The affected churches had previously been entitled to a certain level of state support for their faith-related activities, as well as the opportunity to benefit from tax donations. This financial support was lost when the 2012 law stripped many active churches of their legal status based on criteria hand-drawn by the government, leading many, including the ECHR, to fear that the government was restricting religious freedom. According to Liberties.eu “the Church Act… grants a wide range of privileges and benefits for the churches patronized by the government, while depriving hundreds of existing and operational churches of their legal status”.

The law was implemented with the stated purpose of preventing misuse of state funds by religious organizations, an aim the ECHR found was legitimate, but also stated in a 2014 decision summary that “the Hungarian Government had not shown that there were not any 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 Church Law was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 (the court’s decision was upheld in an appeal), thereby prompting the Hungarian government to amend the law in a manner that corrects the human rights violations identified by both Hungary’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Monday’s decision finds that the claims against the Hungarian government will be awarded with financial compensation for losses. Below is a summary of the amount of damages to be paid to each religious organization.

EUR 60,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to ANKH Az Örök Élet Egyháza

EUR 90,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to Dharmaling Magyarország Buddhista Egyház

EUR 140,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to Mantra Magyarországi Buddhista Egyháza

EUR 45,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to Szangye Menlai Gedün, a Gyógyító Buddha Közössége Egyház

EUR 60,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to Univerzum Egyháza

EUR 105,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to Usui Szellemi Iskola Közösség Egyház

EUR 40,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable, to Út és Erény Közössége Egyház

(ii) in respect of costs and expenses:

EUR 2,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants, to ANKH Az Örök Élet Egyháza, Dharmaling Magyarország Buddhista Egyház,Mantra Magyarországi Buddhista Egyháza, Szangye Menlai Gedün, a Gyógyító Buddha Közössége Egyház, Univerzum Egyháza, Usui Szellemi Iskola Közösség Egyház, and Út és Erény Közössége Egyház each;

EUR 800, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants, to Szim Shalom Egyház and Magyar Reform Zsidó Hitközségek Szövetsége Egyház jointly.

Justin Spike :