By BosNewsLife News Center with additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Smaller evangelical congregations and other groups were weighing their options Thursday, June 27, after Hungary’s parliament introduced new rules on recognizing churches, despite the Constitutional Court’s annulment of several passages in a controversial church law.
Criteria for recognized churches include a history of at least one hundred years or minimum two decades of activities in Hungary. Additionally, a church should count 0.1 percent or more of Hungary’s 10-million population as its members or supporters.
The adjusted law appeared to revive Communist-era rhetoric, demanding that recognized churches must “not pose a risk to national security” and “cooperate with government agencies for community purposes”.
The government-sponsored amendment demands that churches are those faith groups “recognized by parliament”. Other organizations that pursue religious activities must be registered by the Municipal Court.
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 of this heavily Catholic nation.
The changes also ensure that religious education shall be financed by the state. Most of the amended legislation’s passages were to take effect on August 1.
Under the previously adopted ‘Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities’ only 32 of over 300 faith groups in Hungary received formal recognition by Parliament to operate as churches.
However the Constitutional Court said recently that the law failed to “stipulate that detailed reasons” must be provided when a request for church status is refused.
It also complained that “no legal remedies” were provided to those being refused church status and said granting church status by parliamentary vote “could result in political decisions”.
Supporters of the new rules claim organizations whose church status was rejected by legislators can in the future appeal to the Constitutional Court, which will have the power to review parliament’s decision.
Groups who lost their church status under the original church law, have a 30-day deadline to re-apply for recognition.
However recent changes in the constitution — or Basic Law as it is known in Hungary — make it difficult to challenge the legislation as they effectively bypass the previous negative ruling of the Constitutional Court.
The policies have already impacted churches. “Many of the churches which lost their status last year have disappeared or have turned themselves into associations,” said lawyer Szabolcs Hegyi of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union in recent published remarks.
Hungary’s ruling rightist Fidesz party used its two-third super majority in Parliament to introduce the amendment which was adopted with 237 votes in favor and 72 against.
Critics have claimed the European Union’s “most restrictive church bill” only serves the interests and ideology of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“There are things in this law that are contrary to many international recommendations on such laws,” said Jura Nanuk, the founder and president of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute in Budapest.
Hungary’s government argues that the law aims to prevent abuse of Hungary’s tax regulations and other laws.
The United States and European Union have expressed concerns about the religious regulations and other acts introduced by the Orbán administration, saying they “threaten democratic checks and balances” and undermine previously independent institutions, ranging from media and the Central Bank, to churches.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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