The idea from the title above, often misattributed to Joseph Goebels, Nazi “PR expert”, actually comes straight from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. One of the lies which is being for many years systematically presented to Hungarian religious communities and the public is the idea that there are so called “business-churches” which are abusing liberal religious law in Hungary. This lies are being heavily pushed and promoted as the justification for recent creation of the most restrictive Law on Religion known in democratic societies today.
Somewhere in 2001 there was a rumor about business masquerading as church. They were allegedly presenting import of Russian car parts as their main religious activity. Then some months ago I heard another similar rumor about another business-church allegedly importing bicycle parts as claiming bicycle chains to be the rosary beads of their religion. Although those stories are certainly entertaining they have some bad sides as well; first – some people takes them seriously and believe in them, second – they are liable to snowball effect, growing as more and more is being added to them as time goes by.
While Hungary, as well as any other country, have its state agencies and institutions whose job is to enforce the respect of the laws and the legal system, some people are trying to convince us that Hungarian tax office, police and courts are totally incapable for performing their tasks. In other words, if somebody is importing car parts and is covering this obviously commercial activity by registering itself as a church he is committing at least two criminal acts: fraud by false presentation and tax evasion. Both of those criminal acts are already covered by existing laws and it is not true that for prevention of such crimes a new law on churches is needed. To simplify even further, sexual abuse of minors is a criminal act regulated by existing laws and no new law on religion is needed in order to prosecute a child molesting priest.
The the accumulate, snowball effect of such lies is visible in an article recently published on the website of Hungarian Reformed Church (one of those 14 who were granted religious status by the new Law). Article explains that the new Law on Religion was needed because “in last 5-7 years the number of those communities and groups which were abusing the church status was increasing”. Most probably out of ignorance the author of the article is forwarding an outright lie.
It is easy to differentiate lies and rumors from facts, main difference being that lies and rumors lack specifics. If those allegations were true, we would know who exactly was it, what was the exact crime, where was it happening, on which court they were tried, etc. As none of the specific are available on absolutely any of the alleged “business-churches” it is clear that they probably do not exist. Even if those allegation were true they can not be accepted as the reason for the new law on religion, as there are existing laws which sanction such abuses.
The question which remains to be answered is who is creating those rumors and why. Until then, if it sounds as a rumor, which is to say the story does not give any specifics as to who, what, where, how, when, it most probably is a rumor so do your self a favor – don’t believe it.
Director of Inter-Religious Cooperation,
Central European Religious Freedom Institute
PS: Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated in several of its official documents and recommendations that new laws on religions are not needed for preventing abuses of religious status and governments are advised to ”use the normal procedures of criminal and civil law against illegal practices carried out in the name of groups of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature”.