By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Foreign missionaries living in Hungary fear they will be forced to leave the country under new tax legislation, amid a wider government crackdown on religious groups.
The Budapest Times, Hungary's leading English newspaper, said "law-abiding expats" including American missionaries could face up to 45.5 percent in taxes over their wages.
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U.S. missionaries, whose modest income is tax-exempt back home, are “living in uncertainty”, added the wife of an American clergyman in Hungary.
“Missionaries will need to drum up a very large amount of additional support to imply stay here and pay their taxes," The Budapest Times quoted her as saying in this week's issue. "Most will not be able to do that, so they will be forced to move out of the country,” she explained, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Church elder Duncan Johnson of the International Baptist Church of Budapest confirmed that "missionaries are planning to leave" Hungary if the new law is enforced. "This is just too much of a burden for them to bear given their ‘revenue structure’,” he said, referring to donations from support groups, mainly in America.
SOCIAL PROGRAMS END?
Johnson warned that Christian aid programs and other community activities may end at a time when Hungary faces rising poverty due to economic difficulties. “I do know of one missionary organization that is already taking steps to relocate to, of all places, Western Europe. Unbelievably, it will be more cost-effective to operate in Holland than in Hungary.”
Though Hungary has signed bilateral tax agreements with European Union member states, it has not done so with countries such as the United States, where missionaries income is not liable to tax.
In published remarks, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest suggested that such accords prevent a huge levy burden on expats.
“First, they eliminate dual social security taxation, the situation that occurs when a
worker from one country works in another country and is required to pay social security taxes to both countries on the same earnings. Second, the agreements help fill gaps in benefit protection for workers who have divided their careers between the United States and another country,” it said.
MISSIONARIES HIT HARD
With no agreement signed yet, American missionaries will be among the hardest hit under Hungary's new tax regime, according to church representatives.
The measure, introduced this year, followed the last year's enforcement of one of Europe's most restrictive church laws, which sharply cut the number of officially recognized churches from over 350 to just 32.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's center right government says the policies are aimed at ending "business churches," for-profit organizations carrying out religious activities.
But critics, including evangelical Christians, counter that the heavy reliance on pro-government lawmakers in these decisions mean biased political considerations outweigh church and mission activities of, for instance, smaller congregations.
DISSIDENTS ARE CONCERNED
Prominent members of Hungary’s democratic opposition in the 1970s and 80s have asked human rights commissioners of the European Union and the Council of Europe to intervene.
"Never before has a member state of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state," they wrote in an open letter.
Those calling for changes included former Budapest mayor and dissident Gábor Demszky as well as prominent writers and thinkers Miklós Haraszti, Gábor Ivány, János Kenedi, György Konrád, Ferenc Kőszeg, Magyar Bálint, Imre Mécs and László Rajk.
"These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe," they said.
On the Web: The Budapest Times
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