BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights said Tuesday it awarded 3 million euros ($3.3 million) in damages to a small Hungarian Methodist church stripped of its recognized status in 2012.
Along with hundreds of other churches, the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship lost its official status and corresponding financial advantages — like its tax-free status — due to legislation that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government said was needed to weed out "business churches" hiding behind fake religious fronts.
The law, which transferred the right to register recognized churches from the courts to parliament, cut the number of churches from around 370 to 32.
The amount of damages decided by the court based in Strasbourg, France, compensates the church led by Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, a frequent Orban critic, for lost subsidies, grants and other revenue.
Ivanyi, whose church has continued functioning as an association but wants to regain its recognized church status, said the ruling was only a partial victory. It obliges the Hungarian state to pay compensation and could motivate other small churches to fight for their lost rights.
"At the same time, we remain in no man's land because we haven't been returned our tax number, our church status," Ivanyi said. "Our future is uncertain."
The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, founded in 1981 and persecuted during the communist regime, maintains nearly 50 institutions including schools, homeless shelters and a theological college. Much of their work is focused on Hungary's disadvantaged Roma community.