Orbán is trying to squeeze small churches out of existence

June 9, 2017

The U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. Federal Government, says the Hungarian government “may be trying to squeeze the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship out of existence by depriving them of the benefits extended to other faiths and forcing them to devote resources to constantly litigate and re-litigate the same violations.”

In a statement released Thursday, the US Helsinki Commission highlighted how Fidesz’s controversial “Church Law of 2011” has adversely affected certain religious organizations.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the law violated the European Convention on Human Rights after a number of churches filed a lawsuit against the Hungarian state.

The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, joined by several smaller groups, including Mennonites, two small reformed Jewish congregations and a Buddhist congregation, brought the case that was decided by the European Court in 2014.

In April 2017, the court awarded €3 million to the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship for the discriminatory treatment resulting from the “church law,” including:

  • The loss of personal income tax donations and the corresponding supplementary state subsidy,
  • The loss of state subsidies intended to support social and education institutions,
  • The loss of subsidies for religious teaching,
  • The loss of salary supplements paid to the staff employed by church institutions providing public-interest services.

Despite the court’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional, Hungary’s Fidesz-controlled parliament is unwilling to take corrective measures. De-registered churches may be able to get a judgment for damages in Strasbourg (again and again in the case of continuing violations), but only Budapest can provide a legal remedy.

According to the U.S. Helsinki Commission, in addition to the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, “smaller churches de-registered after 2011 have already largely been shuttered.“