Czech Court Nixes Controversial Church Compensation Tax

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AFP) — The Czech Republic’s constitutional court on Tuesday canceled a law slapping income tax on the billions the state will pay churches for assets seized by the Communists during their Cold War rule.

The court complied with a complaint filed by a group of senators against the law signed by President Milos Zeman in May.

“The Constitutional Court has just canceled the tax on church restitutions,” judge Jaromir Jirsa announced on Tuesday.

The country’s 17 religious Christian and Jewish denominations are entitled to recover assets seized by the atheist Communist regime after World War II and to receive financial compensation for those that cannot be returned.

The churches, land and works of art that can be returned were valued at $3.3 billion, according to a 2012 law and deals between the churches and government. 

They fixed a financial compensation of 59 billion koruna to be paid over 30 years, on which the current lawmakers sought to slap a 19% tax as of 2020.

“The law runs counter to the constitution because its only goal was … a reduction of the financial compensation,” Jirsa said.

“The state entered into agreements and backed out of them afterwards.”

The canceled law had been approved with votes from the ruling populist ANO movement of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the leftwing Social Democrats CSSD, the Communists and the far-right SPD party.

ANO and the CSSD form a minority cabinet leaning on tacit backing from the Communists for a parliamentary majority — the first cabinet to do so since Communism was toppled in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989.

The bill was one of the Communist Party’s conditions to back the cabinet.

Prague archbishop Dominik Duka, who spent 15 months in a Communist prison in the 1980s, hailed the court decision.

“This is good news for everyone who cares about freedom and democracy,” the cardinal said on the church’s website. 

Believers are a minority in the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member of 10.7 million people where the single largest denomination consists of more than a million Catholics. 

The Catholic church is slated to receive about 80% of the compensation package. 

Under the 1948-1989 Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, the Catholic church and others saw their property confiscated and priests imprisoned, tortured and killed. 

Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. 

© Agence France-Presse

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