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Hungary's Parliament expands list of recognized churches

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's coalition government has expanded the number of officially recognized churches from 14 to 32 amid complaints about restrictions on religious freedom.

Among the newly recognized religious communities are five Buddhist groups, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and two Islamic communities.

Opposition parties boycotted the vote Monday in Parliament, but the center-right Fidesz party and its ally, the Christian Democrats, mustered the required two-thirds majority. Requests from 66 other religious groups were rejected, including all those backed by opposition parties.

Formal recognition gives churches tax-free status, qualifies them for government support and allows them to collect donations during services and do pastoral work in jails and hospitals.

Churches losing their official status from March 1 will be allowed to function as associations and can reapply for recognition next year.

Hungary's church law is being analyzed by experts from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, including claims that its overly restrictive and violates religious freedom.

Earlier, religious groups in Hungary needed only to register with a court to gain official recognition. This led to abuses, including businesses registering as churches to take advantage of tax benefits, and there were nearly 370 churches recognized in Hungary.