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Hungary: Court awards €3m to religious community after human rights breach

Human rights judges have today awarded €3 million to a religious group which had its church status removed by Hungary’s authorities.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség v. Hungary (application no. 54977/12), the European Court of Human Rights dealt with the question of just satisfaction (Article 41) following a judgment delivered in 2014 on religious communities’ loss of full church status.

Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség, the applicant, is a religious community which originally existed and operated lawfully in Hungary as a church.

However, under a new law introduced in 2012, all religious communities, including the applicant, lost their status as churches and the corresponding benefits. 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 applicant and several other religious communities complained to the European Court about their deregistration under the new law and the discretionary reregistration of churches.

The case was decided on the merits in 2014.

The court found in particular that the Hungarian authorities had disregarded their duty of neutrality by removing the applicant communities’ church status altogether rather than applying less stringent measures. The court subsequently delivered in 2016 a partial judgment concerning the just satisfaction claims of all the applicant religious communities except for Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség.

The latter’s claims were reserved for examination at a later date because negotiations between it and the Hungarian government were still continuing.

In the ensuing proceedings before the European Court, Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség claimed a total of 8,691,000 euros. However, in today’s further judgment on just satisfaction the court decided, unanimously, to award the applicant 3,000,000 euros for pecuniary damage in the form of a lump sum.

This lump sum covered in particular the loss of personal income tax donations, state subsidies and salary supplements for staff employed by church institutions; as well as the real loss of opportunities resulting from the applicant’s lack of access to grants managed by different state authorities.

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