Hungary has introduced a new law governing the registration of religious groups that critics charge discriminates against minority faiths, and strips St Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest of its status as a religious organisation.
On 14 July the Hungarian Parliament adopted “The Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities” Law, by a vote of 254 in favour to 43 opposed.
Introduced on 10 June in Parliament, the proposed legislation would have created three tiers of religious groups, with differing authorities to conduct worship and engage in charitable activities under Hungarian law. Human Rights activists, NGOs and a number of religious leaders objected, arguing, in the words of the Washington think-tank, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, the bill gave Hungary “a tiered system offering an inferior religious status to minority faiths that violates the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from religious discrimination.”
On 12 July the governing Fidesz party with their coalition allies the Christian Democrats amended the bill, eliminating the tier system and recognising 14 religious organisations as Churches. Hungary’s 348 other faiths and denominations were stripped of their legal status as religious organisations and lost their tax exempt status and entitlements to state subsidies.
The 14 denominations that were allowed to retain their registration were the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, select Jewish denominations, the Hungarian Unitarians, the Baptists and the Faith Church.
Among those losing recognition were Hungary’s Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventist and reform Jewish congregations, the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu groups.
The Institute on Religion and Public Policy condemned the new law saying it “creates the most burdensome registration system in the entire OSCE region while codifying systematic discrimination of religious minorities. The Religion Law is completely inconsistent with fundamental human rights as it contravenes the principles of equality and non-discrimination.”
A coalition of human rights and democracy activists that opposed the communist regime submitted an open letter to the European Union asking it to intervene. “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,” the 8 August letter stated.
“In the 1970s, under the Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, all we could do in similar situations was to hold vigils at worship sites that had been shut or demolished.
We fought for a Europe that is united under human rights. Have our hopes been in vain,” they stated, urging the EU to “start an official inquiry into this violation of the rights that are possessed by all Europeans.”
source: The Church of England Newspaper