Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood and gov’t reach partial settlement over Church Law

July 24, 2015


The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood (Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség), a Hungarian methodist church led by its outspoken pastor, Rev. Gábor Iványi, has reached a settlement with the Hungarian government in connection with the church being unlawfully stripped of its church status as the result of the government’s controversial 2011 Church Law, reports Nepszabadság.

The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood will be compensated to the tune of more than HUF 1.2 billion, including HUF 160 million in accumulated interest. The settlement comes after years of legal battles in Hungarian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

While the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood and the government have agreed on a partial financial compensation, the two parties have yet to agree on numerous other legal and financial technicalities. The church will again turn to the European Court of Human Rights to have these issues addressed.

The hastily passed Fidesz-KDNP Church Law of 2011 drew criticism from legal scholars, civil rights groups, religious freedom groups, and foreign governments because of its discriminatory nature.

Hundreds of previously legally operating churches were stripped of their state-recognized religious status, resulting in the loss of state-subsidies, tax-exempt status, and ability to receive Hungary’s 1 percent income tax donation for churches.

A group of sixteen churches, which included Christians, Buddhists, and Jewish organizations, took their case to the European Court of Human Rights. The court last April ruled in favor of the churches, forcing the government to restore their legal status and compensate them for services provided in lieu of the government to which they had previously been entitled.

Dániel Karsai, the lawyer representing the churches in Strasbourg, said the government attempted to reach an agreement with them following a failed attempt to appeal the court’s decision, but was unable to do so in all cases.

Six of the churches represented by Karsai were able to reach a full settlement with the government, while two churches reached only partial settlements (these two will again turn to Strasbourg for a decision).

Karsai would not comment on the full settlement amounts, but did say that rumors circulating in right-wing media about the total amount of compensation amounting to HUF 20 billion are “excessive”.

The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood is perhaps the best known of the sixteen churches that fought the discriminative 2011 Church Law. The Strasbourg court ruling pointed at the overtly arbitrary and political nature of the law and its implementation. The case of  Iványi’s church clearly demonstrates just how accurate the Strasbourg court’s ruling really was, having lost its status despite meeting every condition the law stipulated.

The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood operates numerous schools and homeless shelters.  The loss of its church status in 2011 deprived it of government funds to which it was entitled, as a result of which it had to resort to other methods of funding its extensive humanitarian and social outreach programs, prompting Iványi to tell the Beacon last year that “it’s a miracle we’re alive!