Church registration in Hungary: Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség

The ECtHR has handed down judgment on the issue of just satisfaction for Hungary’s violation of the Convention rights of Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség [The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood].

Background

The Evangelical Brotherhood has been active since 1981. Prior to the adoption of the new Church Act that came into force in January 2012, religious communities had been registered as Churches and received state funding. Under the new law, aimed at problems relating to the exploitation of state funds by certain Churches, only a number of recognised Churches continued to receive funding: all other religious communities – the Evangelical Brotherhood included – lost both their status as Churches and the corresponding benefits. They were, however, free to continue their religious activities as associations.

The Constitutional Court held certain provisions of the new Church Act unconstitutional – in particular, that only incorporated Churches were entitled to one percent of the personal income tax which could be earmarked by believers as donations – and the legislation was amended in 2013 to allow religious communities such as the applicants to refer to themselves once more as “Churches”. But the law still required them to apply to Parliament to be registered as incorporated Churches if they wished to regain the financial and tax advantages to which they had previously been entitled.

Relying on Article 11 (assembly and association) read in the light of Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion), the Brotherhood and several other Churches complained about their deregistration under the new law and the discretionary element of reregistration.

The earlier judgments

In its judgment on the merits on 8 April 2014, Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Ors v Hungary [2014] ECHR 552, which we noted at the time, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 11 read in the light of Article 9. In particular, the authorities had disregarded their duty of neutrality by removing the applicant communities’ status as Churches altogether, rather than applying less stringent measures, by establishing a politically tainted reregistration procedure and by treating the applicants differently from the so-called incorporated Churches.In a separate judgment on just satisfaction, on 28 June 2016, the Court awarded damages to the total of €540,000, plus costs, to all the applicant religious communities – except for

In a separate judgment on just satisfaction, on 28 June 2016, the Court awarded damages to the total of €540,000, plus costs, to all the applicant religious communities – except for the Evangelical Brotherhood, in respect of which it held that the question of just satisfaction was not ready for decision and reserved it to a later date.

The latest judgment on just satisfaction

In Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség v Hungary [2017] ECHR (no. 54977/12), the Court noted that there was no dispute between the parties on the issue of  compensation for the damage sustained in 2015, notably for the loss of personal income tax donations and the corresponding supplementary state subsidy, the loss of state subsidies intended to support the Brotherhood’s social and educational institutions, the loss of subsidies for religious teaching and the loss of salary supplement payable to staff employed by church institutions providing public-interest services [30]. It therefore agreed unanimously to award the Brotherhood a lump sum of €3,000,000 for its financial loss, covering the damages already acknowledged by the Government and the Brotherhood’s loss of opportunities, and €2,250 for costs and expenses.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Church registration in Hungary: Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség" in Law & Religion UK, 25 April 2017, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2017/04/25/church-registration-in-hungary-magyarorszagi-evangeliumi-testverkozosseg/

6 thoughts on “Church registration in Hungary: Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség

  1. Has the Hungarian state paid the 3,000,000 Euros awarded by the Court to The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood? What may happen if they do not?

    It seems the Brotherhood is an example of big business, does it not?

    • 1. Since the judgment was only handed down this morning, I shouldn’t have thought so.

      2. No, it does not.

        • I don’t think we understand the expression “business” in the same sense. Whether or not religious organisations should get state support or tax advantages is another argument entirely: the point about the case is that the state was discriminating illegally between different religious groups. If the Hungarian state didn’t support religous groups at all, there’d have been no issue of discrimination.

          • I agree with your basic point.
            We have seen similar developments in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church has gained substantial state support as an expression of sheer Russ-nationalism.
            My understanding is that this is also happening across parts of Eastern Europe too.
            I believe the Orthodox Romanian Church is also receiving substantial state support too.
            These religious “brands” are becoming the property of the states involved and their beliefs are being manipulated into state ideologies.
            It is all redolent of Constantine’s approach towards the early christian church.
            Many of the former soviet countries view the evangelicals as interlopers and as state agents for the imperialist United States of America.
            That is why their resources and activities are under systematic attack by the state authorities in places like Russia, Romania and Hungary.

          • I think I agree with yours!

            I don’t know how much the Romanian Orthodox Church receives in state support, but there are several outstanding disputes about property of the Greek-Catholic Church that was appropriated by the Government in 1948 and handed over to the Orthodox Church. I’m also just as suspicious as you are about “religion” being manipulated into state ideologies.

            As to Russia and Evangelicals, while I hold no brief whatsoever for the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses it looks very much as if the recent Russian Supreme Court ruling closing the JWs down and expropriating their property is as much as anything because they’re perceived as “foreign”.

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