Ganesh Chaturthi – birthday of Hindu Lord Ganesha

31 08 2011

One of the biggest religious holidays in Hinduism, the great Ganesha festival, also known as ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ or ‘Vinayak Chaturthi’, is celebrated by Hindus as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is observed during the Hindu month of Bhadra (mid-August – mid-September). The grandest and most elaborate Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated in the western India state of Maharashtra, lasts for 10 days.

Elephant-head deity called Ganesha, also known as Ganapaty, is one of the best known and most worshiped deities in Hinduism. He is son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the Divine Mother. Although generally known as Lord of beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, he is also worshiped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha is usually shown having only one tusk, as the legend said he used his tusk to write famous Indian epic Mahbaharata.

May the blessings of Sri Ganesha be upon you all! May He remove all the obstacles that stand in your spiritual path! May He bestow on you all material prosperity as well as liberation!

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish you very happy Ganesh Chaturthi.

Jura Nanuk,
President of the Committee for Inter-Religious Cooperation

Eid ul-Fitr: Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting

30 08 2011

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex with their partners during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. During fasting, intercourse is prohibited as well as eating and drinking, and resistance of all temptations is encouraged. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.

Eid ul-Fitr, often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Common greetings during this holiday are the Arabic greeting ‘Eid Mubārak (“Blessed Eid”) or ‘Eid Sa‘eed (“Happy Eid”). Muslims are also encouraged on this day to forgive and forget any differences or past animosities that may have occurred with others during the year.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish Eid Mubarak to all Muslim believers.

Jura Nanuk,
President of the Committee for Inter-Religious Cooperation

Where is the Panchen Lama?

28 08 2011

The present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is a matter of controversy: the People’s Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu (Gyancain Norbu), while the current Dalai Lama named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on May 14, 1995. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima vanished from public eye shortly after being named, aged six. Chinese authorities stated that Gedhun had been taken into protective custody and is now safe, but there is no information regarding from what, or from whom, he must be protected, where he is being held, or under what conditions.

Beijing’s Panchen Lama, who was selected when he was 6 years old and is also known as Gyaltsen Norbu, has taken on an increasingly political role in recent years. The now 21-year-old has made appearances with Communist Party leaders praising Chinese rule over Tibet and been appointed to the main government advisory body.

Recently, Panchen Lama installed by China’s government against the Dalai Lama’s wishes, has finished a trip to a major Buddhist monastery with comments unlikely to endear him to an already skeptical Tibetan public.

According to a report official Chinese Xinhua News Agency, the Panchen Lama said he was impressed by the amount of religious freedom enjoyed by Buddhists near the remote Labrang Monastery that has been the scene of numerous anti-Beijing protests.

The comments are likely to reinforce the belief among Tibetans that he is not the true Panchen Lama.

The Panchen Lama is the second-ranked religious leader to Tibetans, after the Dalai Lama, but most Tibetans do not accept him because he was appointed by Beijing. The original boy selected by the Dalai Lama in 1995 has not been heard from since.

I am not familiar with procedure used by Tibetan monks to trace their reincarnated Lamas’s  and I am not qualified to give my opinion about which Panchen Lama is the real one, but the question remains: where was 6 years old boy, named by Dalai Lama as reincarnation of 10th Panchen Lama, taken, by whom, why and where is he now?

To find out more click here.

President of International Association for Religious Freedom wrote to Hungarian Ambassadors in Washington, Tokyo, London

26 08 2011

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) is a UK-based NGO working for freedom of religion & belief at a global level. IARF has General Consultative Status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations. On Monday, August 22, President of IARF, Rev.  Mitsuo Miyake, sent letters to Hungarian Ambassadors in Washington, Tokyo, London, expressing his concern for the state of religious freedom in Hungary.

In his letter, the IARF President said:

During Hungary’s democratic transition twenty years ago, the separation of religious and political institutions was achieved. But on 12 July this year, Hungary’s Parliament passed a law on churches that deprived more than 100 religious denominations of their church status (notably, all Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu congregations, as well as Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventist and reform Jewish churches; the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Many religious communities have become pariahs overnight, with all their social, healthcare and educational services stripped of their lawful subsidies. This withdrawal of subsidy will impact certain groups to whom they have been providing services: the homeless, the elderly, the poor, Roma, inmates, children and young people in middle and higher education.

In breach of democratic standards separating church from state, the law declared that in future a vote by Parliamentary parties will authorize religious groups’ existence.

All groups, existing and new, will have to request recognition from a government minister, who will “evaluate” their religious creeds.

This is a violation of the principle of freedom and equality of religions, and the passage of such a law marks Hungary as the first EU member state to break with this principle.

During the Soviet domination of the1970s, worship sites were shut or demolished without recourse. But today Europe is united in the principles of freedom of belief, equality before the law, and separation of church from state (Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The IARF therefore joins the international calls urging Hungary’s political leadership to reconsider this law, in order to bring the religious life of the nation into conformity with European norms.



source: International Association for Religious Freedom

The Church of England Newspaper: Hungary bans Anglicans

20 08 2011

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

Hungarian churches go to Constitutional Court over new church law

16 08 2011


Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 12:15 PM CET

Sixteen churches in Hungary have appealed to the Constitutional Court over the new church law, claiming it violates several basic notions on the relationship bewtween religion and state.

The churches, none of whom are recognised under the new law, argue that the legislation does not guarantee the separation of church and state, violates the basic principle of the free practice of religion customary in a state governed by the rule of law and provides no recourse to legal remedies.

The churches have sent their letter to President Pál Schmitt, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Speaker László Kövér and all parliamentary parties.

source: Budapest Business Journal

Austria: Proposed Changes to the Religion Law Represent a Major Step Backwards

16 08 2011

In an ongoing trend of legislative restrictions on religious freedom, proposed revisions to the 1998 Austrian Law on the Status of Religious Confessional Communities (1998 Law) would perpetuate a system that violates fundamental human rights.

The 1998 Law treated minority faiths and their parishioners as second class citizens not entitled to the rights, privileges and protections afforded favored faiths. Rather than remedy the defects in the law as mandated by the European Court of Human Rights and the Austria Constitutional Court, new legislation has been proposed that will propagate the inherent human rights inequities in the law and, for some religions, make matters worse.  The regressive, rather than progressive, nature of the amendments is extremely disappointing.

Instead of facilitating equal treatment of all religions, the proposed changes to the 1998 Law would deny recognition to some currently recognized religions and continue the moratorium for other religions not currently recognized as “religious societies”. These provisions are in direct defiance of judicial decisions by the European Court of Human Rights regarding these provisions, as well as OSCE and UN standards.

The proposed amendments to the law will implement: a) a three-tired system found discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights; b) retroactive “de-registration” of recognized religious groups, which violates the Rule of Law; and c) repressive membership and duration requirements.

The proposed law is scheduled to be taken up in Parliament on 6 July 2011.

Currently, there are 14 recognized religious communities in Austria. According to reports published this week by FOREF, five religions currently recognized under the 1998 Law — Old Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists, Mormons, and the Apostolic Church — would lose that status if the proposed law is enacted.

In the opinion of THE INSTITUTE, this represents a major step backwards for religious freedom in Austria.  It is surprising and distressing that a country that is the seat of major human rights institutions such the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is choosing to turn its back on human rights commitments it is obliged to follow.

The full THE INSTITUTE analysis on the Austrian amendments can be found here.

source: THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy


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