Lawyer Luka Antunović, partner in Law firm ZBA, answers all key questions related to the legal status, establishment and financing of religious communities in the Republic of Croatia.
1. Definition of legal communities
Religious communities are legal entities sui generis. The legislator does not determine the organization, governing bodies, their hierarchy and competencies, the content and manner of religion, associating with other religious communities, as well as performing other religious activities, provided that this is not contrary to the Constitution and positive legal norms of the Republic of Croatia. Consequently, religious communities are free to perform religious rites in their own, or in leased or rented premises, to establish schools and colleges of any level, to perform public communication activities and to have the right of access to the media.
A church or religious community is defined as a community which exercises freedom of religion through equal public performance of religious rites and other manifestation of religion, and which is enlisted in the records of religious communities (Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities, Official Gazette, No. 83 / 02). In the current legal system, two categories of religious communities should be distinguished:
- existing religious communities, ie religious communities acting as legal entities in the Republic of Croatia on the day of entry into force of the legal regulation regulating their legal status,
- newly established religious communities, ie communities of believers which on the day of entry into force of the legal regulation do not act as religious communities.
2. Legal status of legal communities
The status of a legal entity enables religious communities to be holders of property rights and other real rights, to establish companies and institutions, to conclude legal transactions with legal and natural persons, unless special laws in a particular case prescribe an explicit prohibition on religious communities to establish certain legal entities or possible founders of legal entities have been identified, among which religious communities are not designated. Religious communities, their organizational forms and communities of religious communities are non-profit legal entities.
3. Registration in the records of religious communities
Existing religious communities shall state in the application for entry in the records in question the name of the religious community, the seat of the religious community, the service of the person authorized to represent the religious community and the seal and stamp used by the religious community. In addition to the above information, newly established religious communities should submit an act stating that the religious community has at least 500 believers, an act showing the content and manner of worship, performing religious rites, the area and manner of operation of the religious community, and an act showing that she had been entered in the register of associations for at least five years before submitting the application.
In the event that the newly established religious community is part of a religious community based abroad under the law of that religious community, the request for registration must be accompanied by the consent of the competent central body of the religious community based abroad. Based on the request for registration, the competent Ministry shall issue a decision determining the name and seat of the religious community, the date of registration and the registration number under which the religious community is registered, the determination that the religious community acquires the status of a legal entity. authorized to represent the religious community.
The request for entry in the records will be rejected if the competent Ministry assesses that the content and manner of performing religious rites and other manifestations of religion are contrary to legal order, public morals or to the detriment of life and health or other rights and freedoms of believers and other citizens. An administrative dispute may be initiated against the decision of the Ministry refusing entry in the records, as well as the decision on deletion from it.
4. Funding of religious communities
Religious communities must necessarily provide financial resources for their activities, ie their financing is regulated by the relevant legal regulation and the Agreements between the Republic of Croatia and the Holy See. Accordingly, religious communities finance their activities with the following funds:
income from their property
from the profits of companies which own shares or stakes,
through the performance of charitable, educational, cultural, artistic or other general useful activities, and the sale of religious publications or souvenirs,
by providing religious services,
from inheritance and gifts,
from voluntary contributions (in money, services or works) of natural and legal persons.
Funds for its activities are also provided from the state budget, the annual amount of which will be determined depending on the type and importance of its religious buildings (cultural, historical, artistic…) and depending on its activities in the educational, social, health and cultural fields, and contribution to national culture, as well as to the humanitarian and generally beneficial activities of the religious community. Dedicated grants may be granted from the state budget and the budgets of local and regional self-government units, especially for the construction and renovation of religious community facilities.
In order to receive budget funds, it is necessary to submit a reasoned request for allocation to the competent body or the Ministry of Finance. In accordance with the concluded agreements with the Holy See, the state budget also allocates certain financial resources for, for example, financing the costs of producing and printing religious education textbooks, Catholic schools with the right of the public, including its staff, Catholic universities, and preserving and restoring religious heritage monuments.
Religious communities are outside the tax system, and are accordingly exempt from real estate sales tax when acquiring religious buildings or land for the construction of such buildings, regardless of the manner of acquiring these properties (eg inheritance, donation), alms or gifts from citizens, payments customs duties and taxes on items they receive from abroad, which serve religious communities or their priests and other religious officials to perform religious activities. However, religious communities, including the Catholic Church, which are engaged in economic activity and generate income on its basis (eg from rent, lease, publishing…) are obliged to pay income tax, leaving them the possibility of a lump sum payment, if the amounts of income from economic activity for the previous period do not exceed HRK 230,000.00. Given the different treatment of religious communities in the Republic of Croatia in legal and financial terms, their equality in the exercise of certain rights is called into question, especially because the legislator retains discretion in deciding on contracts of common interest and budget allocations. Therefore, clearer and more objective criteria should be prescribed so that certain religious communities do not find themselves in a more privileged position than others.
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