The case concerned the new Hungarian Church Act. The applicants are various religious communities, some of their ministers and some of their members. Prior to the adoption of a new Church Act, which entered into force in January 2012, the religious communities had been registered as churches in Hungary and received State funding. Under the new law, which aimed to address 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, including the applicants, lost their status as churches but were free to continue their religious activities as associations.
Following a decision of the Constitutional Court, which found certain provisions of the new Church Act to be unconstitutional – in particular the fact that only incorporated churches were entitled to one percent of the personal income tax which could be earmarked by believers as donations – new legislation was adopted in 2013, under which religious communities such as the applicants could again refer to themselves as churches. However, the law continued to apply in so far as it required the communities to apply to Parliament to be registered as incorporated churches if they wished to regain access to the monetary and fiscal advantages to which they had previously been entitled.
Relying in particular on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) read in the light of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), the applicants complained of their deregistration under the new law and of the discretionary reregistration of churches. In its principal judgment of 8 April 2014 the Court found a violation of Article 11 read in the light of Article 9 and held that the finding of a violation constituted sufficient just satisfaction in respect of the claims of non-pecuniary damage of five of the individual applicants. The Court further held that the remaining questions of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) were not ready for decision and reserved them for examination at a later date. The Court will deal with these questions in its judgment of 28 June 2016.
Press release ECHR 212 (2016) 24/06/2016