By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary’s embattled government is weighing its options after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld an April ruling in favour of evangelical and other denominations who were stripped of their church status under controversial legislation.
The Strasbourg-based court rejected the government’s appeal, saying the nine churches are entitled to compensation. It said the amount must be negotiated between the government and the churches after the decision becomes final.
The ECHR said previously that the ‘Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities’, rushed through Parliament by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, “violated” religious rights.
Under what critics view as the European Union’s most restrictive religious legislation, only 32 of over 300 faith groups in Hungary received formal recognition by Parliament to operate as churches.
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT
However religious communities’ loss of full church status breached their rights “to freedom of assembly and association” and their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the Court said in a statement.
The latest ruling was welcome news for the Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház, or ‘Hungarian Christian Mennonite Church’ and several other faith groups who launched the case.
“Governments should not play favourites when recognizing churches,” said Roger Kiska, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) advocacy group, which supported the case in earlier remarks.
Hungary’s government condemned the ECHR’s ruling as it “ignored changes made to the church law which then got a clean bill of health from Hungary’s Constitutional Court.”
GOVERNMENT IS ANGRY
The Ministry of Human Resources accused the nine churches involved in the landmark case of working for “international” interests.
“Taking the [extent of financial] claims submitted for compensation to the Strasbourg court into account … the claimants were motivated by financial gain,” said the Ministry of Human Resources.
The ruling, it said, was partof a “series of attacks directed by certain international interest groups” against Hungary.
However the ECHR said had recourse to other methods to filter out “business churches” besides the broad restrictions contained in the church law.
Critics, including former dissidents, compared the legislation to the Communist-era when churches needed government approval to operate.
The perceived crackdown on certain evangelical and other churches deemed unfit for Hungary, comes amid police raids on non-governmental organizations accused of links to the leftist opposition, including several groups funded by Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.
Last week, police raided the headquarters of the Ökotárs Foundation distributing grants for projects in less-developed economies.
The crackdowns sparked peaceful demonstrations against the government in Budapest over the weekend. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has called the “raids in Hungary deeply worrying”, adding that “dissenting voices (are what) keep society vibrant, (and) this crackdown goes in (the) opposite direction.”
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(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since May 2004).
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