EU court confirms church law a breach of freedom

Issues

The Strasbourg based European Court of Human Rights has rejected an appeal by the Hungarian government and confirmed an earlier judgment saying Hungarian church law breaches the right to free assembly and association, and the right to freedom of thought and religion.  

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected an appeal by the Hungarian government and upheld its judgment passed on April 8 earlier this year in favour of nine small religious communities.The latter had complained that their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as their right to free assembly, had been curtailed when Hungary's new church law stripped them of their church status. The ECHR stated the church law was discriminatory and "unnecessary in a democratic society". It also said it was a clear violation of articles 11 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of press and associatio & freedom of thought and religion).

The Church law which took effect on Jaunuary 2012 requires churches to register with the State in order to obtain legal status and benefit from state subsidies. All churches had to register under the new law that established new criteria for registration. Those churches that did not meet the new criteria lost their legal status as churches.

Although the Hungarian constitutional court annulled parts of the law last year, Hungary did not modify the text. The parliament recognized some religious communities but this didn't mean they would receive state financing. 

The Strasbourg Court states that the churches are entitled to compensation, the amount of which must be negotiated between the government and the churches after the decision becomes final, the Court announced.

However the ECHR cannot oblige the Hungarian parliament to modify the church law.

Maria Fedorova contributed to this article.

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