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Financing of religions

Funding of Churches

Religious organisations are funded on the basis of their legal status. Law 489/2006 on religious freedom and the general status of religions provides for a three-tier classification:
 Recognised religions
 Religious associations
 Associations and foundations with a stated religious aim, registered under O.G. no. 26/2000 on associations and foundations. These are generally cultural, social and/or charitable organisations belonging to recognised religious denominations or autonomous organisations of individuals sharing a common religious belief.

The Romanian State treats religious denominations as private-law public interest entities. 18 religious denominations are officially recognised in Romania. They are equal before the law and the public authorities, manage their own organisation and operate autonomously in accordance with their statutes, canonical code and regulations, subject to the Constitution and the laws of the land. The Romanian State affirms its neutrality with regard to religions, in that it does not favour one religion over another but maintains a relationship of cooperation and social partnership with recognised denominations.
In Romania, each religious denomination has its own financial management system. There are no specific taxes relating to religions. The 18 recognised religious denominations are all equal in terms of funding rights from the State or central and local public authorities, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.
Religious associations do not receive public utility status automatically but are able to benefit from some tax advantages or exemptions.
The different funding sources of recognised religions can be classified as follows:

A. State funding
The Romanian Constitution (Art. 29) commits the State to supporting the activities of religious organisations. This financial support is part of Romanian legal tradition, which also reflects existing European models. From the founding of the modern Romanian state to the present day, all political regimes have provided some form of financial support for the activities of religious organisations. This was especially necessary after the secularisation of Church property, when the Orthodox Church lacked the financial means to support its activities, and the Romanian State partially compensation for the losses suffered by covering part of the expenses for supporting religious activities.

1. Direct funding
Since the fall of the Communist regime, the State has contributed to the partial remuneration of religious personnel, supporting religious entities experiencing financial difficulties. It also gradually began to contribute to the remuneration of the non-administrative staff needed to ensure the smooth running of religious bodies. No law concerning the vast majority of religious staff was passed until the law on State support for clerical salaries in 1999 (Law no. 142/1999). The principle of dual funding of salaries was maintained - from the religious organisations’ own resources and by a contribution from the State. Clerical salary grades were aligned with the professional grades of teachers. Low-income religious entities could receive additional support, and the allowances of religious leaders were set, with higher-placed members in the religious hierarchy (starting with the episcopal grade and similar positions) having a salary status equivalent to that of dignitaries. This law and its subsequent amendments would determine the legal framework for remuneration of the clergy until 2010, when it would be replaced by framework law no. 284/2010 on the unitary salary of staff paid from public funds. Under this law, the subsidy granted for the salaries of religious personnel is generally 65% of the salary. This can rise to 80% of salary for low-income parishes.

However, there are also categories of religious personnel whose remuneration is governed by a different legal regime. The salaries of military clergy (in the Army, Police, Gendarmerie and special forces, including those in the prison system) are entirely paid for by the institutions in which they are chaplains. The remuneration of chaplains in hospitals and social welfare units is non-unitary (State contribution and other sources), as we have shown above. Staff in religious entities outside the country’s borders are also subject to a specific arrangement, with the Government allocating them a lump sum. Teachers of religion in state schools and teaching and non-teaching staff in state theology faculties are agents of the Ministry of Education, which pays them in full. Law 489/2006 lays down that public funding of clerical salaries only takes place “on request, through subsidies, on the basis of the number of the faithful who are Romanian citizens and real needs in terms of subsistence and activity”.
In addition to this support, religious denominations may also obtain additional funding, including aid for the construction or repair of some places of worship. Financial support for religious groups in this regard is mainly provided by the State Secretariat for Religious Denominations. Recognised denominations can also obtain funding from local authorities for various purposes, for both the construction and/or repair of places of worship, and various social projects, although the State reserves the right to monitor the use of funds allocated to religious groups.

2. Forms of indirect funding
a) Tax advantages
Religious activities can be grouped into specific activities (religious, pastoral-missionary, social-philanthropic and cultural-educational), and economic activities whose purpose is to fund specific activities. Specific activities are characterised as public utility activities and economic activities as support activities.
There are tax/fee exemptions that apply exclusively to recognised denominations by virtue of the right to religious freedom (exemption for places of worship and, respectively, non-taxation of products needed for worship) and exemptions for the performance of public utility activities by religious denominations, which are also granted to other entities (in particular religious associations and NGOs). Tax benefits for recognised denominations include exemption from income tax. Recognised religious groups are exempt from this tax if they intend to use the income obtained for the maintenance and operation of religious establishments, and for the construction, repair and consolidation of places of worship and their annexes.
The types of income taken into account are identical to those of the exemptions that apply to NGOs, with the addition of income from the production and capitalisation of objects and products necessary for religious activity and the religious groups’ own income.
In addition, recognised denominations may be allowed to use (or even own) public properties for religious or social purposes. Religious entities are also exempt from income tax on their economic activities up to a limit of €15,000 (with a ceiling of 10% of total income). They are exempt from VAT on the supply of goods and liturgical objects or the printing of religious books falling within the scope of Law no. 103/1992 (monopoly of religious entities on the sale of religious goods) (Art. 141 i), the construction, and the maintenance or extension of places of worship and religious buildings (Art. 143 m).
Employees of denominations with no income are exempt from paying compulsory social security contributions. As far as local taxes and charges are concerned, recognised denominations are exclusively exempt, by virtue of the right to religious freedom, from residence tax for places of worship and their annexes and parish houses, and for buildings classified as historical monuments or assigned to public utility activities. Given the special legal status of places of worship, they benefit, like other public interest buildings, from exemptions for energy and electricity products, and from the tax on the issuing of certificates, approvals and authorisations.
At the same time, recognised religious denominations are exempt from property tax on both land subject to town planning regulations and agricultural land. Another advantage granted to religious denominations by the Romanian State under the provisions of the Tax Code is the possibility of deducting the subsidies granted to religious entities from tax. As further indirect financial aid, the law allows 2% of income tax to be allocated to non-profit associations or religious groups.
A special provision for funding the activities of religious denominations is set out in Law no. 103/1992, which grants religious denominations a monopoly on the production and capitalisation of devotional objects (liturgical objects, icons, pedlars’ wares, religious calendars, candles, religious vestments, religious books, etc.). The aim of this law was to provide a stable source of income for religions after the fall of the communist regime.
Given the principle of proportionality, the Romanian Orthodox Church is the main beneficiary of State aid, since 86.45% of the country’s population identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. This principle, in fiscal terms, does not mean that the Romanian Orthodox Church has any advantage over the other denominations, but simply that the exemptions specific to religious denominations benefit it more in quantitative terms.

b) Project funding
The State is committed to supporting recognised denominations as providers of social services, which takes the form of the partial funding of social projects run by religious denominations and the development of projects in partnership with various religious entities. As public interest legal entities and partners of the State, the various religious denominations have access to different categories of European funds for specific social or educational programmes.

B. Private funding
Religious groups can also obtain funding from private sources, through donations from individuals or private legal entities. Individual donations, income from public collections, regular contributions (e.g. tithes) and occasional contributions (e.g. bequests) have an important role in this funding category.

C. Proprietary income
In addition to these categories of public and private funding, religious groups may also derive income from other resources, such as the use of parish, monastic and/or diocesan (and similar) agricultural land, as well as from the economic activities of workshops, printing works, factories, candle making, etc., linked to the production of goods and devotional objects.

 Tax code
 Romanian Constitution
 Law 489/2006 on the freedom of religion and the general status of denominations
 Law 103/1992 (updated) on the exclusive right of religious denominations to produce objects of worship
 Government Order 82/2001
 Ordinance 26/2000 on associations and foundations
 Iuliana Conovici (ed.), Organizaţiile cu profil religios angajate în economia socială în România, IES, București, 2013.
 State secretariat for religious affairs, State and Religion in Romania, 2nd ed., translated by Della L. Marcus, Bucharest, 2019.
 Virginia Greceanu-Cocoş, Contabilitatea în partidă simplă şi legislaţia utilă unităţilor de cult religios (filii, parohii, mănăstiri, catedrale, paraclise, schituri), ed. Pro Universitaria, Bucureşti, 2010.

See the 2016 and 2019 current debates:
 "The funding and the tax regimes of religious worships"
 "The funding of recognised faiths is under pressure in Romania",
 "Religious denominations classified as low tax risk".

D 17 September 2021    AGabriel Birsan

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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