By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Amid mounting international pressure Hungary's parliament expanded the number of recognized churches from an initial 14 to 32 Monday, February 27, but hundreds of religious groups remained unrecognized.
A whopping 66 other religious communities who applied for recognition to the Ministry of Justice were rejected and told by parliament to try again next year.
Opposition parties boycotted Tuesday's vote in Parliament, but the center-right Fidesz party and its tiny ally, the Christian Democrats, mustered the required two-thirds majority.
Critical politicians, evangelical Christians and former dissidents of the Communist era had expressed concerns over the recently adopted 'Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community.'
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Under the initial rules, only churches could apply for recognition in parliament if they are 100 years old or operate for at least 20 years in Hungary.
Devoted Christian groups that emerged after the collapse of Communism and other evangelical churches were among those expressing concerns that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government would turn back the clock to the Communist era of over two decades ago.
"Those who voted for the law are not with us," said Pastor Gábor Iványi, president of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (HEF), an umbrella group of evangelical groups and churches recently.
"This is called dictatorship", he added.
Supporters of the law say it is aimed at preventing abuse of Hungary's tax laws and other legislation
Yet on Monday, February 27, parliament decided to recognize Iványi's United Methodist Church in Hungary.
Others on the new list include the Hungarian Pentecostal Church, the St. Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church, the Transylvanian Congregation, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Hungary, the Apostolic Christian Church Nazarene, the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Free Church of the Salvation Army of Hungary, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, two Muslim denominations and five Buddhist religious communities.
US CONGRESS DELEGATION
The u-turn for these groups also came amid international pressure. Among the latest raising its voices was a United States congressional delegation led by Representative Dan Burton, a Republican.
In a statement to BosNewsLife the U.S. embassy in Budapest said the delegation, which also included Democrats, spoke with Prime Minister Orbán and other officials about "the principle of equal treatment for all religious organizations."
Yet, lawmaker Ildikó Lendvai of the opposition Socialists urged President Pál Schmitt on Monday, February 28, not to sign the amended church law, as it still "deprived several religious communities from their church status without giving any explanation."
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, officials said.
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