Czech lower house approves tax on church compensation payments

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech parliament’s lower house voted on Wednesday to tax churches on payments received for property confiscated during the Communist era, meeting a key demand of the Communist Party that props up the center-left minority government.

Lawmakers from the ANO party of Prime Minister Andrej Babis as well as junior coalition partner the Social Democrats, joined the Communists and far-right SPD party to vote for the bill, which passed with 106 votes in favor in the 200-seat chamber.

The payments, mainly to the Catholic Church, began in 2013 and amount to 2 billion crowns ($89 million) per year over 30 years.

They cover church property confiscated by the Communists in the mid-20th century that the state was unable to return under a 2012 restitution law, for example because it changed ownership in the meantime.

The bill is set for a tough ride in the upper house and some lawmakers have said they plan to challenge it in the Constitutional Court.

Under the compensation deal, church authorities - whose influence over Czech society is waning - also face gradual cutbacks in government contributions toward clerical salaries and other expenditure.

Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by John Stonestreet