European Court Of Human Rights Affirms Church Self-Governance


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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday that government has no place in regulating the internal affairs of churches.

The same court that ruled against treatment for Charlie Gard established the right of churches to “ecclesiastical courts and the discipline of ministers” as a basic right to be protected and enforced by all 47 members of the Council of Europe, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The court’s ruling settled the case of Nagy v. Hungary, brought forward by Karoly Nagy, a former minister, in 2009 against the Hungarian courts for refusing to weigh in on an ecclesiastical court’s decision to remove him from ministry. ADF intervened in the case and filed an expert brief on behalf of Hungary.

“The government has no place interfering in the relationship between a church and its leaders,” said Paul Coleman, Deputy Director of ADF International, in the news release. “ADF International intervened in this case to highlight that time-honored principle. International law, and especially the European Convention on Human Rights, protects this fundamental freedom, and the Grand Chamber has now affirmed this.”

Nagy’s grievance began in 2005 when an ecclesiastical court of the Reformed Church in Hungary removed him from pastoral duties. A second ecclesiastical court upheld the decision of the first, which prompted Nagy to bring his case before Hungary’s Supreme Court, who threw the case out on the grounds that the issue fell under ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The ECHR upheld that Hungary’s ruling, and ruled Nagy’s claim inadmissible.

The court’s decision has far reaching implications, as it establishes the breadth and limit of church governance and protects it from government interference in all countries belonging to the Council of Europe.

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