In Nagy v. Hungary, (ECHR, Sept. 14, 2017), the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, by a vote of 10-7, upheld the exclusive jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts over contractual disputes that are matters of ecclesiastical law. In the case, a pastor in the Reformed Church of Hungary was suspended, and ultimately removed, from his position through church disciplinary proceedings because of statements he had made in a local newspaper. He then sued in civil courts for compensation that he says he was owed for the periods prior to his termination. When lower courts dismissed his claims, he argued that this violated his right under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law in determining his civil rights. The European Court’s majority opinion held in part:… [A]pplicant’s claim … concerned an assertion that a pecuniary claim stemming from his ecclesiastical service, governed by ecclesiastical law, was actually to be regarded as falling under the civil law…. Given the overall legal and jurisprudential framework existing in Hungary …, the domestic courts’ conclusion that the applicant’s pastoral service had been governed by ecclesiastical law and their decision to discontinue the proceedings cannot be deemed arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable…. [This] Court cannot but conclude that the applicant had no “right” which could be said, at least on arguable grounds, to be recognised under domestic law. To conclude otherwise would result in the creation by the Court, by way of interpretation of Article 6 § 1, of a substantive right which had no legal basis in the respondent State.Four separate dissenting opinions were also filed. ADF issued a press release regarding the decision.
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