ECHR rules in favour of Hungarian church freedom
What’s at Stake
- The right to freedom of religion
- The right to freedom of assembly
In late 2011, hundreds of religious communities in Hungary found themselves without any official recognition. Even many churches from mainstream Christian denominations were removed from “church” status by law. Almost overnight, these groups were left without their right to freedom of religion and freedom of assembly.
The catalyst for these events was a new law introduced by the Hungarian government that removed hundreds of religious communities from the officially recognized list. The list was cut from over 300 religious communities to just 14. After significant outcry, the list was extended to 32 religious communities. But this was still 90 per cent smaller than it had been just a few months before. The new list omitted many churches that had been in existence for decades. Countless Christian ministries were also affected.
The Hungarian Government explained that the new law was an attempt to address the situation of “business churches” that had arisen under the old law. These churches were receiving certain benefits from the state. But in its attempt to regulate the so-called “business churches,” the government cut dozens of genuine, well-established churches in the process.
To get re-registered, churches had to meet several new daunting criteria. These included meeting the government’s definition of religion, being in existence for either 20 years in Hungary or 100 years internationally, and comprising of at least 1000 members. Even if these conditions are met, church registration is still dependent on a parliamentary vote of approval.
Faced with these arbitrary, difficult-to-meet requirements, nine religious groups took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2012. They claimed that their right to freedom of religion, as recognized in the European Convention on Human Rights, had been violated. ADF International joined with local counsel, Dr. Daniel Karsai, as co-counsel for six of these organizations, including four Christian churches.
In its April 2014 decision, the ECHR recognised that Hungary had breached the Convention rights of these groups. The Court ruled decisively that Hungary’s new Church Act was contrary to the principles of the European Convention of Human Rights and that the de-registration of the churches (and later refusal to re-register them) was a violation of freedom of assembly and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
Our Role in the Case
ADF International represented four churches, together with lead counsel Dr. Daniel Karsai, before the European Court of Human Rights.