When is a church not a church? The answer – when the government says so. At least this is the case in several European countries, where a multi-tiered system is strictly operated and only the entities that reach the top tier are officially recognized as churches.
While non-recognized churches can potentially still operate as associations, lacking official church recognition carries many consequences. For example, official churches can receive tax exemptions from real-estate tax; financial contributions to recognized churches can be tax deductible; it is easier for foreign ministers and missionaries to gain visas to work for a recognized church, and depending on the country, there may also be benefits in relation to education, military service and several other areas of life – none of which can be received by non-recognized churches.
Imagine the shock, then, for churches operating in Hungary in late 2011 when the government decided to introduce a new law that would de-register hundreds of churches from the officially recognized list. In almost no time at all, the list had been shaved from over 300 churches to just 14. After significant outcry, the list was begrudgingly extended to 32 churches – still 90% smaller than it had been just a few months before and still missing many religious communities that had been in existence for decades.
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