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Hungary Pressured To Revoke Controversial Church Law

Sunday, August 14, 2011 (7:19 pm)
 

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been pressured to overturn church law.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been pressured to overturn church law.



BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Hungary's center-right government is under international pressure to revoke a new church law that critics say resembles the Communist-era, BosNewsLife established Sunday, August 14.

The influential Washington-based human rights group Freedom House has added its voice against the legislation, which restricts the officially recognized churches in Hungary to just over a dozen religious communities.

"It is unconscionable that any democratic country, particularly one that so recently freed itself from a Communist system in which all religious freedom was repressed, could pass such discriminatory legislation," said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House.

Under last month's adopted 'Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community' only 14 of the 358 faith groups in Hungary will be granted formal recognition to operate as churches in this country of some 10 million people.

The law, which passed with 254 votes in favor and 43 against, recognizes Hungary's predominant Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox denominations, as well as some Jewish groups.

HUNDREDS NOT RECOGNIZED

Hundreds of other groups, including several evangelical churches, automatically lose their “registered” status as of January 1, 2012. While police raids are not expected yet, they will no longer receive key financial support and tax advantages from the state for their social and charitable work.

At least tens of thousands of deeply inpoverished Hungarians receiving church support, including many Gypsies, or Roma, will be impacted by the move, critics say.

Freedom House said it was concerned that groups have to meet seven different criteria and a two-thirds parliamentary majority must approve any registration application.

To become legally recognized, religious groups must obtain 1000 citizen signatures and have a presence in Hungary for 20 years or more.

CHURCH OF GOD

Among those that will have to go through a difficult process to regain registered status is Hungary's Church of God, which traces its roots to 1907 but was stripped of recognition under the new law.

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"I don't think anyone will come and tell us we can't worship God," added László Debreceni, a leader of the church in a published interview. "But it will raise serious issues that some churches are now on the approved list and others not."

Hungary's Methodist Church and a number of Islamic groups are among others being targeted by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has faced Western criticism for his perceived autocratic and nationalistic style.

The government has denied wrongdoing, saying the law is aimed at abuse of state resources at a time of a deep economic crisis.

However, "This kind of legislation that favors certain religions over others is typical of what one finds in countries such as Russia and Malaysia and is incompatible with liberal democracies," countered Schriefer.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM URGED

"Freedom House calls on the government of Hungary to adhere to the protections enshrined in its constitution, which includes the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice, and get out of the business of evaluating which religions it deems worthy," she said.

Freedom House earlier urged United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to convey American concerns about the law.

Even Hungary's former Communists-turned-Socialists, who are now in opposition, have called the law adoption date of July 12 “a day of mourning in church history”.

The Socialists described the vote as "unworthy of the churches or the freedoms of religion and conscience."

FORMER DISSIDENTS CONCERNED

Prominent members of Hungary’s democratic opposition in the 1970s and 80s agree. They have written to human rights commissioners of the European Union and the Council of Europe (CoE) asking them to intervene.

Over a dozen signatories to the letter requested EU Commissioner Viviane Reding and CoE Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg "to take resolute action in defense of freedom of religion and other fundamental liberties that are presently in great danger" in Hungary.

"Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe," they also wrote.

Those signing the letter included former Budapest mayor and dissident Gábor Demszky as well as prominent writers and thinkers Miklós Haraszti, Gábor Ivány, János Kenedi, György Konrád, Ferenc Kőszeg,  Magyar Bálint,  Imre Mécs and László Rajk.

The church law is the latest in laws that have concerned the international community. Hungary's six-month EU presidency this year was overshadowed by criticism over its media law and constitution that rights activists say limits press freedom and government interference in previously independent institutions such as the Constitutional Court.

Also Read:

BUDAPEST BRAINWAVE: King Orbán’s Church Version

3 Responses to “Hungary Pressured To Revoke Controversial Church Law”

  1. Thomas Says:

    “While police raids are not expected yet, they will no longer receive key financial support and tax advantages from the state for their social and charitable work.” The law does not allow for any such raids, nor indeed does it infringe in any way on people’s right to the worship as they choose. It only prevents small organizations and groups from declaring themselves religions in order to abuse, with disgraceful cynicism, the tax free status of religious organizations. And how appalling that “Hungary’s former Communists-turned-Socialists, who are now in opposition, have called the law adoption date of July 12 “a day of mourning in church history”.” There is absolutely no reason to listen for a moment to people who were complicit in a government that destroyed churches and imprisoned and executed people because of their religions beliefs. And they are not Communists-turned-Socialists, they are opportunists who remain opportunists.

  2. Stefan Bos Says:

    Dear Thomas,

    There is serious concern that churches with less than 1,000 supporters will no longer be able to carry out their social programs. But even more importantly I would argue is that there is international concern that the government of Hungary should adhere to the protections enshrined in its constitution, which includes the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice, and get out of the business of evaluating which religions it deems worthy. I leave it up to you whether the Communists-turned-Socialists remain opportunists. Let the reader decide. This was just a news piece.

    Best regards,

    Stefan

  3. Julia Says:

    Dear Thomas! What you imply is simply a lie. The vast majority of the churches that will lose their legal status as a church have never ever abused their status, this circle includes a large number of Christian churches as well as buddhists, muslims, people worshipping Krishna, they are truly believers. They predominantly support people, children living in extreme povery: romas, homeless, invalids, etc.

    The concerned law violates the freedom of religion because it discriminates between churches (it chooses 13 churches, while it dumps hundreds), while in religious matters the state shall remain NEUTRAL according to the scope of application of the said human right. Besides, accorfing to the freedom of religion, religious communities also have the right to obtain their “church” legal status in fair, non-discriminatory procedures. This law institutes the prerogative of the Hungarian Parliament to decide over their legal status by two-third majority with no judicial remedy whatsoever. Moreover, in fact, the harrassment of e.g. the Witnesses of Jehova had already begun, just for your information. Should they start preaching in the streets, they may be summoned by the police. If these churches lose their status, their priests, clergymen, pastors are PROHIBITED to call themselves as such, all their property may be confiscated.

    Religious communities gave the natural right, sometimes even religious duty, to become churches. The state has no right to restrict this in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner as it happens in Hungary. By enacting this law, Hungary violated its international obligations, a handful of constitutional rights, this law must be abolished.

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