The case concerns the question of just satisfaction following a judgment on the new Hungarian Church Act and religious communities’ loss of full church status.
Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség, the applicant, is a religious community active in Hungary since 1981. Prior to the adoption of a new Church Act, which entered into force in January 2012, religious communities were 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 Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség, lost their status as churches and corresponding benefits. They were however 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), Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség and several other religious communities complained to the European Court of Human Rights about their deregistration under the new law and the discretionary reregistration of churches.
In its judgment on the merits on 8 April 2014 the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 11 read in the light of Article 9. It found in particular that the authorities had disregarded their duty of neutrality by removing the applicant communities’ church status altogether rather than applying less stringent measures, by establishing a politically tainted re-registration procedure and by treating the applicants differently from the so-called incorporated churches. In its subsequent judgment on just satisfaction on 28 June 2016 the Court awarded damages to all the applicant religious communities except for Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség, in respect of which it held that the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) was not ready for decision and reserved it for examination at a later date. The Court will deal with this question in its judgment of 25 April 2017.
Press release ECHR 132 (2017) 20/04/2017