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ICC Note: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has upheld a ruling that condemns a law adopted last year by Hungary regarding the official status of churches. Critics of the law say it restricts religious freedom more than any other current law in Europe and has led to hundreds of faith groups losing recognition and any official right to operate as churches. Whether or not the ruling by the ECHR will have an impact on Hungary’s policies remains to be seen, but the ruling creates momentum for faith groups seeking to have the law overturned. 

9/18/2014 Hungary (CIC) – 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.

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.”

The Ministry of Human Resources accused the nine churches involved in the landmark case of working for “international” interests.

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