Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights

27 11 2013


Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is celebrated for eight days beginning at sundown on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. On the Hebrew calendar, the dates are 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet in the year 5774.

An eight-day celebration, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C.E. during the Maccabean revolt against oppressive Greek rulers. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays and is celebrated by lighting a nine-branch candelabrum, commonly called a menorah. (Technically, the candelabrum for Hanukkah is called a hanukkiah to distinguish itself from the seven-branch menorah used in the Temple and described inExodus 25.)

The story of Hanukkah is one of revolution and miracles: Greek influence over the Jews in the Land of Israel had become an affront to Jewish culture and ritual. Antiochus, the Greek ruler, forbade Jewish religious practice, so a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, revolted. These Jews eventually prevailed and, as a first order of business, restored the Holy Temple, which had been desecrated. The menorah in the Temple needed to be re-lit because, according to tradition, it should burn continuously. The Temple liberators found one vial of olive oil, enough for one day of light. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.

Today, Jews everywhere light menorahs on each night of Hanukkah. Traditionally, one candle or flame is lit for each night until the eighth night, when all eight lights shine together. The menorah has a ninth “helper” flame — known as the shamash — used to light the other candles. This is necessary because in Jewish law the Hanukkah lights’ only purpose is to visually proclaim the miracle of the holiday. Jews place the lit menorah in a prominent window in order to fulfill this commandment.

Gift giving is now a common practice on Hanukkah, and it is therefore a beloved time for Jewish children. Fried potato pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts (sufganiyot) are traditional fare, and a spinning top (dreidel) with four Hebrew letters has become synonymous with the holiday. The letters — nungimelheishin — form an acronym for the message of Hanukkah: A great miracle happened there.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute,
I wish Chag Urim Sameach to all members of Jewish community!

Jura Nanuk,
Central-European Religious Freedom Institute

Inter-Religious Inclusion in Europe

26 11 2013

Text by Ollie Davies
Photo by Christopher Murphy



‘Inter-Religious Inclusion in Europe’ session of the European Leadership Conference on “Human Rights: Are Democratic Nations Upholding the Standard?” was chaired by interfaith veteran; Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, a retired Anglican priest, now holding the position of President of the World Congress of Faiths.

Mr. Peter Zoehrer, Chief Editor and Secretary General of FOREF-Europe

Mr. Peter Zoehrer, Chief Editor and Secretary General of FOREF-Europe

The first presentation, Freedom of Religion and Belief and Religious Freedom in Europe, was given byMr Peter Zoehrer, Chief Editor and Secretary General of FOREF-Europe (Forum for Religious Freedom- Europe) and Advisor to Universal Peace Federation (UPF) – Europe on Human Rights. Before asking the question whether standards of religious freedom and inclusion are upheld by democratic nations, one must first define religious freedom.

He defines religious freedom as: a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. The concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and nations to be a fundamental human right.

In a country with a state religion, freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths. Mr Zoehrer also points out that Artical 1 and Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human rights states that Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Unfourtunatly, it is the opinion of some people that religious freedom does not afford the same protection of other human rights and these failings are not understood by many.

FoRB (Freedom of Religion or Belief) is an EU initiative laying guidelines which are to be practiced beyond its borders, drawing attention, as appropriate, to freedom of religion or belief in the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council.

This organisation lets the EU engage in the fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, and the implementation of the relevant legislation and action to focus on the right of individuals, to believe or not to believe from an impartial point of view. They also provide officials with practical guidance on how to seek to prevent violations of freedom of religion or belief, to analyse cases, and to react effectively to violations wherever they occur, in order to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in the EU’s external action.

Several studies clearly show that, in many countries, religious freedom is not practiced and the persecution of minority religions is widespread. Even countries within the EU are guilty of this charge and the reality is that the European Union is demanding Human Rights standards of others which it fails to implement within its own borders, practicing a “Drinking wine and preaching water” or “Do as I say! Don’t do as I do” attitude.
After briefly citing examples of state level discrimination of religious belief within the EU; France, Switzerland and Hungary, Mr Zoehrer ends by quoting Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Each civilization should be judged by the way it treats her minorities’ and Martin Luther King Jnr., ‘We have to live together as brothers & sisters or perish together as fools.’

Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke introduced the next speaker, Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, a fellow leader in the World Congress of Faiths, a scholar, educator and real powerhouse of interfaith harmony and religious rights within Europe.Islamophobia: Hostility and Discrimination against EU Muslims is denial of their basic Human Rights in Europe: An Islamic Perspective. Are Muslims the new Jews of the current century?

 Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, a leader in the Imam World Congress of Faiths

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, a leader in the World Congress of Faiths


Bis Millah HIR Rahma nir Rahim (I begin with the name of Allah the Merciful and the Mercy-giving) Assh-hadu an la ilaha ill-lal-Lahu Wah-hadu la Sharika Lahu Wa assh-hadu anna Muhammadan Abdu-hu wa Rasu-lu-hu. (I declare that there is no god but Allah, Allah is one and has no partner, and I also declare that Muhammad is Allah’s servant and His last Messenge.) ). I greet you with the greetings of Islam (Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakathu (May God’s blessing and peace be with us all.)

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid greets the room and gives thanks to Mr Peter Zoehrer for outlining the situation that many Muslims face in Europe and around the world.

He opens with the simple question, “are Muslims being treated equally and fairly?” To answer this question, he remembers a report that he was part of a commission to write. The first report on the subject of “Islamophobia” in the world, to be commissioned. The report made 60 recommendations of which only 30 were completed. The issue of hostility against Muslims is painfully apparent and in plain view to many people. The Times Newspaper sympathetically described Muslims as the Jews of this century, meaning that they are experiencing discrimination and hostility born from the same ignorance which caused people of the Jewish faith to be persecuted in the previous century. Because of this, some countries are banning religious symbols and customs connected to Islam. Quoting former Archbishop, Lord Carey, he says, “Any country that is afraid of religious symbols is not worth living in. We should all treat each other with respect and divinity so they can flourish in the way that we all want them to.” 

Although Kofi Annan made it very clear in a UN conference in New York that the UN will combat Islamophobia and anyone who wants to accept any faith has the fundamental right to do so, many states and people still fear Islam.

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid notes that, in the Quran, after the creation of man, Satan feels superior to man and acts upon it. Such superiority complexes are a creation of Satan. Diversity is a God given gift and he has commanded us to make sure we help each other and work together to challenge any differences we have among ourselves. These are emotions that men and women feel, and it is individuals, not nations that make the difference.

Prof. David Baer, Lutheran University of Texas
Prof. David Baer, Lutheran University of Texas

Prof. David Baer, Professor of Theology and Philosophy, teaching Ethics at Lutheran University of Texas spoke about state level religious discrimination in Hungary entitled, ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others: Continuing Problems with Hungary’s Law on Religion’. The law was concerning the status of a religious group. What was to be counted and recognised as a church, what was to be excluded and what was to happen to those who were?

There was an initial bill proposed which granted 362 churches and religious institutions officially recognised status. A last minute review cut that number down to only 14. Other than the 14, any religious association seeking official sanction will have to demonstrate its presence in Hungary for at least 20 years, obtain 1,000 signatures, gain the support of a government minister, pass review by the National Security Service, AND win a two-thirds vote of parliament. Observed one Hungarian newspaper, “Gods are now sitting in parliament” who get to decide who constitutes a church and who does not?

The list of 14 was later expanded to include smaller Christian groups and large non-Christian groups but the selection remains highly discriminatory.

Because the law states that the religious organizations must be suitable for cooperation with the state in pursuit of the public good, which is a very vague set of guidelines, it opens up the legal opportunity for the state to act in an arbitrary manner. Although they later added an appeal process, because of the vague nature of the initial decision making, it is hard to imagine a situation where an appeal will go though as the law gives the government the legal right to act in such a manner. As an example, Prof. David Baer used the example of the leader of the Hungarian evangelical fellowship who was denied status. He was close to the president, even baptised his children. Since then, their relationship soured and he is now a critic of the regime. It is widely believed that this is the reason his church is not included in the list of recognised churches. He closes by referring to and quoting George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’.

The chair of this panel, Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke points out that a church has been set up for atheists and jokes how the Hungarian government would classify them before introducing the final speaker of the panel, Vice President of the European Jewish Council, Mr Edwin Shuker.

Speaking on the topic of anti-Semitism, he makes a distinction between the suffering of those who have suffered discrimination at the hands of individuals and those who have suffered discrimination at the hands of their homeland state. For the first part of his life in Iraq this was fearful and traumatic. As a child, you see yourself the way you are and wonder why others can’t see the same.

Sitting in the core of power in the UK where he can speak freely with no censorship or discrimination, Mr Edwin Shuker identifies groups that oppose the Jewish faith and culture: anti-Semites on the street, the far left, the far right, jihadist extremists and vocal anti-Semitic internet users. The internet is a new world which is very hard to censor with full freedom of speech. Haters have made full use of that privilege to abuse Jews. There are ways of curbing the most extreme manifestations of hate on the internet but they have not been put into effect yet.

Another more passive form of discrimination is that practiced by some in the working world. Many Jewish people will not sacrifice the Sabbath for any work or mission. This has been the cause of his own mother being made redundant for not being able to work on a Saturday on religious grounds. An appeal and tribunal was ineffective.

There are always movements against circumcision, calling it mutilation and child abuse, but by working together with religious leaders, some people have found that there are ways of making compromises without compromising faith. An example of this would be the move of some Jewish communities to have circumcision performed by someone medically trained rather than an untrained rabbi at the collaborative request of groups outside the Jewish community. Though mutually beneficial communication, results can be achieved.

Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, President of the World Congress of Faiths

Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, President of the World Congress of Faiths

The next point was about the personal discrimination that many people face on a daily basis. A survey concluded that 45% of the people fear abuse on the street on the internet. 33% fear physical attacks. The perception of fear is just as important as the act itself and it is down to the religious communities themselves to spearhead the problem. Check your own homes, schools and curriculums. Do we have prejudices against others? If we do, then we cannot expect to be treated without prejudice. Do we exaggerate the way we have been treated? If we do then we are harming the cause. The real cases of discrimination will not be taken seriously.

“The vast majority of European people and states are accepting. They have opened their arms and boarders to accommodate

Jews. We need to be careful when we speak, be grateful and work with them to eliminate all faults in society. We don’t like being talked about badly so we must see, in our own home, how to we talk about others in a similar or worse situation?”

The journey to full acceptance begins with your own attitude towards others. Only then can the attitudes of those who discriminate against you change.

Folytatódnak a problémák Magyarország vallásokról alkotott törvényeivel

25 11 2013


Prof. H. David Baer speaking at the European Leadership Conference of Universal Peace at UK Parliament, November 21, 2013.

Prof. H. David Baer speaking at the European Leadership Conference of Universal Peace at UK Parliament, November 21, 2013.

By prof. H. David Baer / Texas Lutheran University / Central-European Religious Freedom Institute

Universal Peace Federation Conference at UK Parliament
21-22 November 2013


Az elmúlt két év során komoly kutatásokat végeztem aziránt, hogy felbecsüljük Magyarország egyházi törvényének kihatásait a nyilvántartásból törölt, illetve nem bevett egyházakra. Ez a kutatás kérdőívezésből valamint kiterjedt terepmunkából állt, melyet Magyarországon folytatott hosszas látogatások során hajtottam végre. Ma ebben a rövid időben, melyet számomra kiszabtak, szeretném kiemelni az általam kulcsproblémáknak tekintett dolgokat Magyarország egyházi törvényével kapcsolatosan. Ezeket a problémákat kettő csoportba lehet osztani. Az első csoport magával az engedélyeztetési eljárással kapcsolatos, míg a második az egyházként el nem ismert vallási közösségek jogi státusával. Sorra ezeket a problémákat fogom taglalni, de hogy világosan tehessem ezt, először had ismertessem tömören az egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvény megalkotásának történetét.

Az egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvény hányatott törvényhozási története

„A lelkiismereti és vallásszabadsághoz való jogról, és az egyházak, vallási felekezetek és vallási közösségek jogi státusáról” szóló törvény első változatát a 2011. év C. törvényeként fogadta el az Országgyűlés. Az eredeti törvényjavaslatot a KDNP terjesztette be, amely a kormánykoalíció egyik pártja. Az eredeti törvényjavaslat 44 elismert egyházat sorolt fel, és tartalmazott egy procedúrát mellyel további vallási csoportok is megkaphatnák az egyházi elismerést egy bírósági eljárásban. Azonban kettő órával a végső szavazás előtt az eredetit egy teljesen különbözőre cserélték, melyet a kormányzó FIDESZ párt egy tagja terjesztett elő. Az új javaslat, melyet törvényként elfogadtak, az elismert egyházak számát 44-ről 14-re csökkentette, lefektette továbbá, hogy a jövőben bármely csoport egyházként történő elismerését kizárólag az Országgyűlés 2/3-os többségű szavazata engedélyezheti. Habár Magyarország Alkotmány Bírósága később megsemmisítette a 2011. Évi C. Törvényt eljárásbeli hiba miatt, a javaslat ikertestvérét benyújtották az Országgyűlésnek és 2011. Évi CCVI. törvényként 2012. január 1-én hatályba lépett.
Februárban az Országgyűlés kibővítette az elismert egyházak számát 14-ről 27-re, mely lista ekkorra tartalmazott kisebb keresztény és nem-nyugati vallási csoportokat. Ez még mindig kevesebb volt, mint az eredeti KDNP javaslatban szereplő elismert egyházak száma. Továbbá elfogadásakor a CCVI. Törvény megfosztott minden el nem ismert vallási csoportot addigi jogi státusától. Becslésem szerint akár 150 vallási csoport regisztrációját törölte el az a törvény.

A Magyar Alkotmánybíróság következetesen megsemmisített számos passzust a CCVI. törvényből azon az alapon, hogy az elismerési eljárás nem garantálta megfelelően a kellő eljáráshoz való jogot és nem biztosított jogorvoslati lehetőséget minden vallási közösség számára. A kormány erre azzal reagált, hogy korrigálta mind az Alkotmányt, azaz az Alapvető Törvénynek nevezett törvényt és a 2011. évi CCVI. törvényt. Habár ezen korrekciók némelyike javított a törvény egyes részein, mégis továbbra is az Országgyűlés végső döntési jogkörében hagyta az egyházak elfogadását. Ily módon hiányos a törvény a kellő eljáráshoz való jog és a jogorvoslati lehetőség tekintetében, melyet az alkotmánybíróság kifogásolt. E tekintetben, éppúgy mint sok más tekintetben, Magyarország egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvénye továbbra is rendkívül diszkriminatív marad.

Gondok az elismerési eljárással

Az AB kellő eljárással kapcsolatos aggályaira a kormány azzal válaszolt, hogy módosította Magyarország törvényeit, hogy azok explicit módon politikai döntésnek engedjék át annak elbírálását, mely vallási csoportokat ismernek el egyházként . A CCVI. törvény mára lefekteti, hogy az egyházi elismerés feltétele az, hogy a közjó érdekében az álammal való együttműködésre alkalmasnak kell lennie a vallási közösségeknek. Egy vallási közösség erre való alkalmasságát működési szabályzata, tagságának létszáma és korábbi tevékenységei határozzák meg. Ezek azonban homályos feltételek. A jelenleg elismert egyházak listája sok kis olyan egyházat tartalmaz, melyek csekély társadalmi jelenléttel bírnak, miközben kizár nagyobb, jelentős társadalmi jelenléttel bíró egyházakat. Minthogy a követelményrendszer homályos, ezzel jogi holtteret nyit, amelyben az Országgyűlés szabadon önkényesen és diszkriminatívan cselekedhet.

A kormány azzal válaszolt a jogorvoslati lehetőség hiányára kifejezett aggályokra, hogy belefoglalt a 2011. évi CCVI. törvénybe egy passzust, hogy folyamodhatnak az Alkotmánybírósághoz, amennyiben az Országgyűlés elutasítja kérelmüket. Azaz, egy visszautasított vallási közösség arra kérné az AB-t hogy az Országgyűlés egy konkrét döntését vizsgálja felül, amelyben az elutasítja az egyházi státusukat. Csakhogy, mivel mind az Alaptörvény, mind az egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvény lehetővé teszi az Országgyűlésnek, hogy politikai döntést hozzon arról, mely vallási csoportok alkalmasak az állammal való együttműködésre, ezért nehéz olyan szituációt elképzelni, melyben az AB valaha is elutasíthatná az Ogy. valamely döntését. Az Ogy-nek alkotmányos joga önkényes döntések törvénybeiktatása, akkor az AB nem tudja megsemmisíteni az Ogy. döntését az önkényesség okán. […] A folytatás következik


A vallásszabadság jelenlegi helyzete Magyarországon a következőképpen foglalható össze. A vallási közösségek kétszintű besorolása Magyarországon diszkriminatívan funkcionál azáltal, hogy eltérő jogokat és védelmet biztosít a bevett egyházaknak és a vallási szervezeteknek. Mivel a vallási szervezetek kevesebb jogot és támogatást élveznek, ezért sebezhetőbbek az állami illetve bürokratikus hivatalok diszkriminatív intézkedéseivel szemben. Mivel az elismerés procedúra igencsak politikai alapú, ezért vallási csoportoktól megtagadták a hatékony jogorvoslati lehetőséget, melyet a bevett egyházak élveznek. Mint a disznók, akik George Orwell Állatfarmján uralkodtak, Magyarország új egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvényének szerzői meglehet azon álláspont hívei, miszerint : “Minden állat egyenlő, de bizonyos állatok még egyenlőbbek.”

Continuing problems with Hungary’s Law on Religion

21 11 2013
Prof. H. David Baer speaking at the European Leadership Conference of Universal Peace at UK Parliament, November 21, 2013.

Prof. H. David Baer speaking at the European Leadership Conference of Universal Peace at UK Parliament, November 21, 2013.

By prof. H. David Baer / Texas Lutheran University / Central-European Religious Freedom Institute

H. David Baer, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy received his Doctorate from the University of Notre Dame in 1999, a Master of Theological Studies from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 1992, and a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College in 1990.

Universal Peace Federation Conference at UK Parliament
21-22 November 2013


During the last two years I have devoted considerable research to assessing the impact of Hungary’s religion law on deregistered, or non-established, churches. This research has consisted of surveys as well as extensive field work carried out during extended visits in Hungary. Today, in the short time allotted to me, I would like to highlight what I see as key problems with Hungary’s law on religion. These problems can be grouped into two sets. The first set concerns the recognition procedure itself; the second set concerns the legal status of religious communities not recognized as churches. I will discuss these problems in turn, but to do so clearly let me first comment briefly on the religion law’s legislative history.

The religion law’s troubled legislative history

The first version of the law on “the Right of Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the Legal Status of Churches, Religious Denominations, and Religious Communities” was passed as Act C of 2011. An initial bill was brought to the floor by the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), a coalition party in the ruling government. The original bill listed 44 recognized churches and provided a procedure by which additional religious groups could receive recognition through the courts. However, two hours before the final vote, the original bill was replaced with a completely different one, introduced on the floor by a member of the ruling Fidesz party. The new bill, which was passed into law, reduced the number of recognized churches from 44 to 14, and stipulated, further, that future recognition of churches would be determined by a 2/3rd vote in Parliament. Although Hungary’s Constitutional Court later struck down Act C on procedural grounds, an identical version of the bill was resubmitted to Parliament and passed as Act CCVI of 2011, going into effect on January 1, 2012.

In February, Parliament expanded the number of recognized churches from 14 to 27, a list which now includes smaller Christian and non-Western religious groups. This is still fewer than the number of recognized churches included in the original Christian Democratic bill. Moreover, at the time it was passed, Act CCVI stripped all religious groups not recognized by Parliament of legal standing. In my estimate, as many as 150 religious communities may have been deregistered by the law.

Hungary’s Constitutional Court subsequently struck down numerous provisions in Act CCVI on the grounds that the recognition procedure did not adequately guarantee the rights of due process and legal remedy to all religious communities. The government responded by amending both Hungary’s constitution, or what is called the Basic Law, and Act CCVI of 2011. Although some of these amendments improve parts of the law, they also preserve Parliament’s power to determine church recognition. Thus they fall short of addressing adequately the issues of due process and legal remedy raised by the Court. In this respect, as well as others, Hungary’s religion law remains highly discriminatory.

Problems with the recognition procedure

The government responded to the Court’s concern about due process by modifying Hungary’s laws to allow explicitly for political discretion in the decision concerning which religious groups to recognize as churches.[1] Act CCVI now stipulates as a condition for recognition that a religious community must be suitable for cooperation with the state in the pursuit of public goods. A religious community demonstrates this suitability on the basis of its charter, the size of its membership, and its previous activities.[2] These, however, are vague criteria. The current list of recognized churches includes many small churches with a small social presence, while simultaneously excluding larger churches with a significant social presence. Because the criteria are vague, they open up a legal space in which Parliament is free to act in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.

The government responded to the concerns about legal remedy by introducing a passage into Act CCVI that allows religious communities to appeal their rejection by Parliament before the Constitutional Court. That is, a rejected religious community would ask the high court to review Parliament’s specific decision to deny it church status. However, since both the Basic Law and the law on religion allow Parliament to exercise political discretion in determining which religious groups are suitable to cooperate with the state, it is hard to envision a scenario in which the Constitutional Court could ever overturn a decision by Parliament. If Parliament has a constitutional right to enact arbitrary decisions, the Court cannot strike down Parliament’s decision for being arbitrary.

To illustrate the kind of arbitrary treatment Hungary’s new constitution protects, one might consider the case of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship. The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship is a church which, despite its large social presence, has been denied recognition by Parliament. The church operates a large homeless shelter in Budapest and five nursing homes. It also maintains a seminary, and educates more than 3000 children, mostly Roma, in preschools and elementary schools throughout the country. Although the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship was included among the recognized churches in the original Christian Democratic draft of the law, it was not included in the bill submitted to Parliament by Fidesz’s representative.

The president of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship is Gábor Iványi. Iványi was an opposition figure in the communist period and part of a group that broke away from the Hungarian Methodist church in the 1970’s to establish the Evangelical Fellowship. Pastor Iványi also baptized Viktor Orbán’s first two children. The young Orbán, perhaps, was attracted to Iványi because of his strong anti-communist credentials. Since then, however, the relation between the two men has soured. Today Iványi is one of the Orbán government’s most vocal critics.

In a published interview, the news weekly Heti Válasz asked the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, about the government’s relationship with Iványi. Balog, who plays a key role in deciding which religious communities are forwarded to Parliament to be considered for recognition, was asked whether Orbán’s children had been baptized in a false church. He responded as follows:

“Baptism is valid even if it is performed by a midwife, which means that Orbán’s child is all right. In addition, it is not in good taste, in my opinion, if someone appears all over the media announcing that he baptized the prime minister’s children. What kind of spiritual leader gives statements about the spiritual life of believers who have been entrusted to him? I would never do such a thing because I take being a pastor seriously. And as to those who don’t, why are they surprised that the government, in turn, does not take them seriously?[3]

If this is intended as an explanation for why the government has refused to recognize Iványi’s church, then such an explanation appears incompatible with the state’s obligation to adopt a neutral attitude toward religious communities. Are we to understand that the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship is not suitable for cooperation with the state because, in the view of a government minister, its president does not take his pastoral vocation seriously? Although this is admittedly a rhetorical question, the point is that nothing in Hungarian law appears to rule out such prejudiced considerations from Parliament’s decision concerning which churches to recognize, and nothing in Hungarian law appears to guarantee the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship legal remedy against Parliamentary decisions rendered on such a prejudiced basis.

Problems with the legal status of deregistered religious groups

When it reduced the number of recognized churches in Hungary, Act CCVI simultaneously placed the formerly recognized, now deregistered, churches into a no-man’s land in which they had no clear legal status. Deregistered religious communities were forced to apply for recognition as civil organizations, but neither Hungary’s constitution nor its civil code extended basic religious freedom rights to civil organizations. In this respect, recent amendments to Act CCVI represent a notable improvement. The law now creates two clear categories for religious groups. The first category consists of “established churches” (bevett egyházak), which are the churches recognized by Parliament. The second category consists of “organizations conducting religious activity” (vallási tevékenységet végző szervezetek). These religious organizations are registered by the courts, rather than by Parliament, and they enjoy many of the protections associated with the right of religious freedom.

Even so, this two-tiered classification system remains highly discriminatory. Unlike established churches, religious organizations do not enjoy tax exemptions, nor do they receive the same kind of subsidies as churches. Beginning in 2014 the accounting laws applicable to established churches will be significantly different from those applicable to religious organizations. The two tiers are also treated unequally in respect to religious practice. For example, the clergy of established churches enjoy privileges of confidentiality (e.g., a priest can’t be forced to divulge secrets heard in the confessional) that clergy in religious organizations do not. Although religious instruction has recently been incorporated into the national school curriculum, religious organizations are prohibited from offering religious instruction in public schools. Before the new religion law and the change in Hungary’s national curriculum, however, many of these same religious communities could offer optional religious instruction in public schools when there was demand for it. Moreover, when placed in the context of broader changes in Hungary’s legal environment, the new law on religion functions to burden and restrict the activity of non-established religious organizations.

The best way to understand how the law functions in practice is by way of concrete illustrations. There is a Buddhist community in Hungary, consisting mostly of Roma, called the Jai Bhim Network. It is actively engaged in educating disadvantaged gypsy children. When Jai Bhim was still a recognized church, it rented out several classrooms from a public school in Ózd, a city frequently in the Hungarian news because of racial tensions. When Jai Bhim lost church status, all of its contracts, including its contract with the school in Ózd, where voided. City leaders were unwilling to negotiate a new contract, and Jai Bhim had to abandon its activities in Ózd. Of course, members of Jai Bhim remain free to practice their religion, and they are even able to maintain a few schools. However, their activities have been restricted, and, lacking the same legal protections enjoyed by established churches, they are more vulnerable to discrimination.

In 2011, Hungary conducted a national census, which included a question about religious affiliation. In the town of Sajókaza, where Jai Bhim is active and maintains a school, more than 300 gypsies identified themsevles as Buddhists to census workers. Shorthly thereafter, the local police went knocking door-to-door in the Roma neighborhood, asking if the residents had identified themselves as Buddhists on the census.[4] According to some news reports, the mayor of Sajókaza later informed the town’s gypsies that the Catholic priest would neither bury Budhhists nor baptize their children.[5] A few months later, the Hungarian Labour Inspectorate, responding to an anonymous tip, audited the school operated by Jai Bhim in Sajókaza. Because this school was no longer a church school, the regulations pertaining to it were different. The school needed to keep a record not only of the hours teachers spent in the classroom, but also the hours teachers spent preparing for class outside of the classroom. Because it failed to do this, the school was fined 3.2 million HUF (approximately $14,000).[6] Although the fine was later reduced to 1.75 million HUF, this remains a large sum which the school must pay at the same time its operating budget has been reduced by the loss of state subsidies granted to churches and church schools.

In fact, the representatives of many religious communities have told me they worry about the tax authority. At any time, they say, the government can order the audit of a religious community it dislikes, and because the accounting laws are complicated and constantly changing, the tax authority can always discover an irregularity and levy a fine large enough to drive a small religious community into bankruptcy. Established churches, by contrast, will be able to maintain financial records in accordance with their own internal rules starting in 2014. Thus the tax authority will not be able to audit the records of established churches as carefully or rigorously as it can audit the records of businesses and religious organizations.

The situation regarding religious freedom in Hungary might thus be summarized as follows. Hungary’s two-tiered classification of religious groups functions discriminatorily by affording different rights and protections to established churches and religious organizations. Because religious organizations enjoy fewer rights and protections, they are vulnerable to acts of discrimination from state and bureaucratic offices. Because the registration process is thoroughly political, religious organizations are denied an effective legal avenue to obtaining the rights and protections enjoyed by established churches. Like the pigs who ruled George Orwell’s Animal Farm, those who crafted Hungary’s new law on religion might well concur that, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

[1] According to Hungary’s Basic Law, article VII.2: “The parliament may recognize as churches in a cardinal law certain organizations carrying out religious activity, with which the government will cooperate in the interest of public goals.” (Az Országgyűlés sarkalatos törvényben egyházként ismerhet el egyes vallási tevékenységet végző szervezeteket, amelyekkel az állam a közösség célok érdekében együtműködik). Article VII.4 reads: “As a condition of recognizing organizations carrying out religious activity as churches, the cardinal law may stipulate a certain period during which the organization has had to be in operation, the existence of public support and suitability for cooperation in reaching goals that are in the public interest.” (A vallási tevékenységet végző szervezetek egyházként való elismerésének feltételeként sarkalatos törvény huzamosabb idejű működét, társadalmi támogatottságot és közösségi célok érdekében történő együttműködésre való alkalmasságot írhat elő). The most recent version of Hungary’s Basic Law is published in Magyar Közlöny 55. Szám 2013

[2] Act CCVI of 2011 (2011. évi CCVI. törvény) 14. § i) reads: “the proof of the intention to cooperate in the interests of society and the ability to carry it on in the long term lies, especially, in the organization’s bylaws, the number of its members, the activity it conducted prior to the application in the areas specified in Article 9 (1) and the access of larger groups of the public to such activities. (a közösségi célok érdekében történő egyhüttműködés iránti szándékát és annak hosszú távú fenntartására való képességét különösen alapszabálya, tagjainak száma, a kezdeményezést megelőzően a 9. § (1) bekezdése szerinti területeken végzett tevékenysége és az ilyen tevékenységnek a lakosság nagyóbb csoportja számára való hozzaférhetősége bizonyitja).

[3] Heti Válasz May 25, 2012. “A keresztség akkor is érvényes, ha egy bába végzi, tehát az Orbán gyerekekével semmi gond. Azt meg ízléstelennek tartom, ha valaki végigturnézza a médiát azzal, hogy ő keresztelte a kormányfő gyerekeit. Milyen lelki vezető az, aki a rábízott hívők lelki életéről nyilatkozik? Én sosem tennék ilyet, mert komolyan veszem a lelkészi hivatást. Aki nem veszi komolyan, az pedig miért csodálkozik, hogy az állam meg őt nem?”

[4] “A sajókazai romák vallására kívancsi a rendőrség” http://index.hu/belfold/2012/02/20/a_sajokazai_romak_vallasara_kivancsi_a_rendorseg/

[5] “Tudja-e, hogy a buddhistákat nem temeti el a pap?” http://index.hu/belfold/2011/10/29/tudja-e_hogy_a_buddhistakat_nem_temeti_el_a_pap/

[6] “Meg a kávéfőzőt is ellenőrizték: büntetés vár a sajókazai iskolára” http://hvg.hu/itthon/20120418_sajokaza_iskola_buntetes


COUNCIL OF EUROPE: Protecting the rights of parents & children belonging to religious minorities

18 11 2013


Recently various interest-groups have increasingly pushed to curtail the parents’ rights to raise their children according to their own conscience and religious traditions.  This constitutes a clear violation of the parents’ autonomy and free choice in matters of education. In response to this threat a motion for a resolution was released at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the 10th of October. It was drafted by Valeriu Ghiletchi, member of the Assembly and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. The motion has been signed by 21 other members.

Excerpts from the “Motion for a Resolution (Doc. 13333)” on the protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities (emphasis added):

“The Council of Europe is committed to a policy for the protection of rights mentioned in Article 2 of the additional protocol of the European Court of Human Rights to respect the rights of parents to ensure that their children are raised and educated in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.


Valeriu Ghiletchi, member of the Assembly and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Valeriu Ghiletchi, member of the Assembly and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

The Assembly has expressed concern regarding discrimination that may arise from unnecessary restrictionson the rights of parents to raise and educate their children in conformity with their own religious andphilosophical convictions.

The European Court of Human Rights has also ruled on this matter in many decisions, reinforcing the rights of parents to raise their children in conformity with their own convictions.The Assembly finds that new religious movements and religious minorities are especially at risk regarding the infringement of these rights by some member States.

Derogatory labeling of religious minorities as ‘sects’, ‘sectarian’, ‘cults’ or any other term generates bias and stigmatization and lead to undue restrictions to a parent’s right to raise and educate their children in conformity with their own beliefs. The Assembly therefore resolves to study and identify cases where member States do not respect the rights of parents to educate children according to their own religious and philosophical convictions, especially with regard to minorities.”

FOREF Europe welcomes this motion for a resolution and endorses the determination of the signatories to ensure the protection of the rights of parents to educate their children in accord to their own beliefs and conscience.

SOURCES and links for further information:

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – Motion for a Resolution (Doc. 13333): The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities. (Full Text here)

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – Motion for a Resolution  (Doc. 13333): The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities. (Signatories)

Source: Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

Anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s birth: 5 facts to know about Baha’i faith

13 11 2013

The Baha’i Faith is the youngest of the world’s independent monotheistic religions. Founded in Iran in 1844, it now has more than five million adherents in 236 countries and territories. Baha’is come from nearly every national, ethnic and religious background, making the Baha’i Faith the second-most-widespread religion in the world.

Click here for more information on Baha’i faith.

1. On November 12, Baha’is celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah (born Mirza Husayn-‘Ali) in 1817, in Tehran, Persia (now Iran).

Baha'i Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India

Baha’i Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India

2. Baha’u’llah, which means the “Glory of God,” is the founder of the Baha’i Faith.

Baha'i temple in Haifa, Israel

Baha’i temple in Haifa, Israel

3. Baha’u’llah’s birthday is one of the nine holy days of the Baha’i calendar when work is suspended.

The Baha'i Temple Of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.

The Baha’i Temple Of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.

4. The central aim of Baha’u’llah’s life and work was to establish the peaceful organization of the entire human race, says Shastri Purushotma, a Baha’i writer.

Tourists visit the The Baha'i House of Worship known as the 'Lotus Temple' ahead of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games on September 30, 2010 in Delhi, India.

Tourists visit the The Baha’i House of Worship known as the ‘Lotus Temple’ ahead of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games on September 30, 2010 in Delhi, India.

5. Though he was imprisoned for much of his life Baha’u’llah’s writings number over 100 volumes, are now spread over 200 countries and territories, and have been translated into over 800 languages, writes Purushotma.

A general view shows the terraced gardens and the golden Shrine of Bab following renovation works at the Bahai World Center, in the Israeli port city of Haifa.

A general view shows the terraced gardens and the golden Shrine of Bab following renovation works at the Bahai World Center, in the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Source: Huffington Post

Interfaith Marriage: Christian And Hindu Love Story Told In ‘Saffron Cross’

12 11 2013
J. Dana Trent & Fred Eaker

J. Dana Trent & Fred Eaker

Religion News Service — Growing up Baptist, J. Dana Trent heard plenty of warnings about interfaith romance.

Marrying the wrong person — known as being “unequally yoked” — could ruin your faith and your marriage.

But three years after marrying a former Hindu monk, Trent says she’s a better Christian than ever.

“I had become complacent in my Christianity,” said Trent, an ordained Baptist minister. “Now my religion and spirituality have become much more integrated in my life.”

Trent tells the story of her interfaith marriage in a new book “Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk.” Out this month from Nashville, Tenn.-based Fresh Air Books, “Saffron Cross” is part of a recent mini-boom of guides to interfaith marriage and family.

There’s also “Mixed-Up Love” from Jon M. Sweeney and Michal Woll, “’Til Faith Do Us Part” from Naomi Schaefer Riley, and “Being Both,” by Susan Katz Miller.

All are aimed at helping families navigate the joys and challenges of interfaith life. They may find a large audience as blended faith families have become commonplace in American culture.

About out one in four Americans (27 percent) is either married to or lives with a partner of another faith, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, published in 2008 by the Pew Research Center.

But until recently there have been few books on how to make interfaith marriage work.

So Trent decided to write her own, with the help of her husband, Fred Eaker.

It’s part love story, part how-to guide on interfaith communication.

The couple, who are now in their early 30s, met five years ago with the help of eHarmony.

Trent graduated from Duke Divinity School and was working for a North Carolina nonprofit. Her dating prospects were pretty bleak, she said.

“I was, quite honestly, very lonely,” she said. “I was looking for someone that I could share my spirituality with as well as my life.”

Eaker was looking for a spiritual companion, too.

An American-born Hindu convert, he spent five years as a monk at a Gaudiya Vaishnava monastery in California.

The time there taught him self-discipline along with spiritual practice.

“Some people join the military — I joined the monastery,” he said.

When she signed up on eHarmony, the website asked Trent what faiths she’d be open to in a partner. She initially checked Christian and Jewish, and then, on a whim, added other faith traditions.

That ended up including Eaker, who described himself online as spiritual but not religious.

It’s a description he still likes, when talking about faith.

“Spirituality means that you are interested in God’s life and how you can be a part of it,” he said.

When she learned that Eaker had been a monk, Trent assumed he was Catholic. Learning that he was Hindu was a bit of a shock.

Eaker had grown up as a nominal Christian, who rarely went to church, but had at one point taken part in an altar call. But he hadn’t been baptized.

At first, Trent wanted to change that.

“I told him, you are nearly saved,” she said. “As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I realized that I did not see Hinduism as an equally valid path.”

Her view on salvation changed after that conversation, and Trent says she no longer worries about Eaker being saved.

Having an exclusive view of salvation can cause trouble for interfaith couples, said Riley, author of “’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America.”

Riley commissioned a survey of 2,450 Americans on the topic of interfaith marriage as a part of her book. She found those with more inclusive theology tended to be more satisfied.

“If you think that your spouse is going to hell, you are going to be unhappy about that,” said Riley.

Riley also found that interfaith marriage involves constant renegotiation. People’s ideas about faith change.

Trent grew up Southern Baptist, and often heard pastors quote 2 Corinthians 6:14, which warns Christians not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers in marriage.

Trent said that she and Eaker are fortunate to be in congregations and have clergy that accept their marriage.

“Fred could have had a more conservative guru who came up with the Hindu version of ‘be not unequally yoked,’” she said.

Their main advice to other interfaith couples is counterintuitive: Worship together.

Trent fasts twice a month and goes to a Hindu temple with Eaker on holy days, though she says she thinks about Jesus during worship there.

Eaker attends church services and teaches Sunday school with Trent, but refrains from singing the doxology, which ends with “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

They also worship together at home, at an altar that includes a photo of Eaker’s swami, two Gaura-Nitai deities, and an icon of Christ.

Their joint worship includes offering food at the altar three times a day. That’s a duty that Trent takes care of.

At first, she was uncomfortable with that. Now she says the altar helps her focus on spending time with Jesus in prayer.

“God doesn’t need our food,” she said. “But God needs our time.”

Eaker has adopted some of Trent’s spiritual habits as well. He was used to chanting God’s name during prayer. Now he joins her in saying grace at meals and in less formal prayer in the evenings.

The next big challenge will likely come with children. For now, they are planning to raise children in both faiths, even though that may become complicated.

“Children can never have enough love,” said Trent. “And children can never have enough God.”



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