The Belgian State must pay nine Brussels-based Jehovah's Witness associations a total of €5,000 in damages, because they are not a recognised religion in Belgium and therefore miss out on a tax exemption in Brussels.
The case was taken to court by nine associations of Jehovah's Witnesses after an amendment of the Brussels legislation, reports De Standaard. Since 2017, non-recognised religions in Belgium are no longer exempt from property tax on their prayer houses.
Recognised churches, mosques or synagogues, on the other hand, no longer have to pay the real estate tax – a fiscal benefit for recognised religions. For this, Brussels applies the recognition system of the Federal Government.
But this system lacks transparency: there are no clear legal criteria, only the Justice Minister can initiate the recognition procedure and approval is decided in the Parliament. That fosters discrimination, according to a binding ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday.
Within the next three months, the Belgian State must pay the Brussels associations a total of €5,000 in damages to cover their legal costs. As they had not yet paid their property tax, this will not need to be reimbursed.
Professor of Discrimination Law Jogchum Vrielink (Université Saint-Louis) called the ruling "a legal bombshell." He told De Standaard that "the core of the entire support system, the access to recognition, is being undermined."
To avoid more convictions and compensations, Belgium will have to quickly work on a legal framework for the recognition of religions.
In 2004, the communities and the federal level already agreed to do so, but no changes have been made. Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told the newspaper that he will work on such a legal framework. "The judgement is clear."