Double Trouble: Discrimination of Roma Buddhists in Hungary

10 03 2012

Hungarian Buddhist congregations have lost their denominational rights this summer along with every Hindu and Muslim congregation. Some organisations regained the religious rights from March 2012 thanks to protests.

Jai Bhim Network, which educates, agitates and organizes on the footsteps of Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar in schools and congregations in rural Roma communities, remains deprived.

To help the fight discrimination please sign the petition on

On February 23, uniformed police officers surrounded the high school of a small Hungarian town. Their targets: four Roma students, all between the ages of 14 and 16, who were to be arrested and transported in handcuffs for questioning at the neighboring city’s police station. But according to residents of the town, the conflict between the local authorities and the Roma community involves more than just a school-yard spat. Namely, it has to do with religion, discrimination, and most especially with the responses of the town’s residents to the national census.

Trouble in the Local School. As many as ten uniformed police officers entered the school building of the North-Eastern town of Sajókaza. Three female and one male student were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and for restraining another person’s liberty – for attacking a 17-year-old female student a week ago, on February 13. The students were taken away in hand-cuffs, the teachers overheard the officers using racial slurs.

Leaders of the local community, among them the chairman of the local Roma minority council hurried to the police station upon news of the arrest. Only one of them, the headmaster of the school – who made the case that in his official capacity he was personally responsible for the students – was allowed to stay with them at the police station.

The investigation concerned a case that had occurred a week earlier. The students’ statements had already been taken at that time, after a spat on the school’s campus which involved two female students who got into the argument over a boy.

When asked about the racial slurs, the spokesperson for the county’s police stated that the students did not make an official complaint about their treatment. He told the press that during their questioning the four teenagers admitted to the charges and that the students’ treatment were within legal bounds. Civil rights activists are doubtful: regulations for the police explicitly forbid police conduct “evidently not commensurate” with the purported goal of the action taken. Furthermore, when police officers have a choice among more than one possible ways of handling a case, they must choose one that, besides efficiency, also guarantees the least restraint, injury or damage against the target of the action.

Census Investigation.
 The incident took place in the Dr. Ámbédkar School, an institution operated by the Dzsaj Bhím Buddhist community, which works in partnership with many organizations – among them the Hungarian government and Amnesty International – to provide Roma youth with a high-school education. In the impoverished north-eastern region of Hungary, a high school degree is an important prerequisite of a livable future. Despite the fact, however, several communities in the region have segregated their schools.

But despite its connections outside the community, or perhaps precisely because of them, the Dzsaj Bhím (Helping Hands) Buddhist community has an uneasy relationship with the local authorities. One of the manifestations of this longstanding conflict is an investigation under way against the leaders of the Buddhist community, who stand accused of committing census fraud.

Hungary’s census was conducted during the month of October 2011. Already by mid-October, however, a complaint had been made to the police of Sajókaza citing preliminary results of the census data collected via internet filing.

As described by the town’s notary to the television crews arriving to the scene in October, over 300 persons – one in ten residents of the village – identified as Buddhists in Sajókaza, which raised doubts that leaders of the local Buddhist community may have filled out census forms for the town’s Roma residents. Indeed, over 600 individuals, many of whom belonged to the Roma minority, used the internet connection at the Buddhist community center to file their census forms.

Nevertheless, at the time of the television reports, the Hungarian authority entrusted with ensuring the anonymity of the census denied providing access to the local authorities to the results of the data collected.

The police investigation under way since last October concerns the role of István János Lázi, leader of the local Roma minority council, who is also a prominent member of the Buddhist community. Lázi assisted census responders at the Buddhist community center and is now accused of over-reporting the number of Buddhist believers in the village.

The majority of the Roma residents of the town are known to be Roman Catholics. When asked, however, they also point out that the question on the census form asked them to name the religious community to which they belong, and that regardless of their religion, they consider Dzsaj Bhím their true community. Not even the mayor’s informal threats – that the Catholic church will refuse to provide them a burial or to baptize their children if they identify as Buddhists – led them to reconsider their answers.

Addressless. There is solidarity among the Roma and the Buddhist community regarding other matters as well. The town’s Roma residents are thankful to Dzsaj Bhím for assistance in restoring their houses after a flood. They also appreciate the support received in their fight against the policies of the local municipality.

In March of 2011, the municipal government of Sajókaza introduced new regulations for registering a local residence: in every house of the municipality, at least ten square meters have to be available to house the resident registered at the address – bathroom, basement and storage not included.

But refusing to register persons as officially residing in the village may have been a longstanding practice in Sajókaza even before the regulation was made official: some of the Roma in the town have not been able to obtain residency in Sajókaza for as many as six years.

Accordingly, many of the Roma of Sajókaza are “addressless.” Without a registered home address, they are also disenfranchised: they are ineligible to vote and addressless persons do not qualify for local aid either.

In Hungary, it is within the power of each municipality to set local regulations for registering one’s residence in the municipality. For example in Hajdúhadháza, in another town in Northeast Hungary, registration is tied to keeping an orderly yard and maintaining standards of hygiene within the residence. Hajdúhadháza’s municipal council therefore also reserves the right to access the town’s residences and yards in order to monitor the hygiene of their residents.

In Sajókaza, there is a second issue causing conflict within the locality. Municipal plans drawn up for introducing sewage canals into the village exclude the two Roma neighborhoods situated at the two opposite edges of the town. At the same time, however, the sewage plant is planned to be built in one of the Roma neighborhoods, at a location where rising waters of the Sajó river could flood the streets with raw sewage.

Privacy of Personal Data. While the criminal investigation relied on the availability of personal and sensitive information from the national census, it is unclear who leaked about the “suspiciously high” number of Buddhist believers in the town. The identity of the person initiating the criminal probe has not been reported, and the governmental authority responsible for conducting the census denies releasing this information data to the local authorities.

Just days prior to the arrest of the high-school students, the local police also made an attempt to obtain permission from Roma residents to investigate their census responses.

“I authorize release of my information as provided during the census regarding my religious affiliation to the police,” the affidavit of permission to use statistical information in a criminal investigation states. Two uniformed police officers had made visits to Roma residences in Sajókaza to hand-deliver the forms and to explain the criminal investigation under way. This took place just days before the police escalated its proceedings against the Roma students of the community.

The affidavit is a legal absurdity, points out András Jóri, who used to serve as Hungary’s ombudsman for data protection until his office was reorganized under Hungary’s new constitution. If the police decides to investigate something, the law defines the scope of information they are entitled to use. Otherwise, the police does not typically ask for permission to investigate.

What is especially disconcerting about the affidavits collected by the police in Sajókaza is that their text suggests – falsely, as was pointed out by a governmental agency – that the police has access to the census forms, and, what is more, that it is capable of matching up the authorizations obtained with the census form submitted by the specific individual who agrees to a criminal probe.

The spokesperson for Hungary’s national census insists that this would be impossible. The only identifying personal data on the census form is the person’s home address, but even this information is deleted, eventually, from the census database once the data processing has been completed.

Data Protection under the Hungarian constitution. András Jóri, who spoke out against the illegalities of the criminal investigation in Sajókaza in spite of that fact that he no longer serves as Hungary’s ombudsman for data protection, also points out that the relative benefits of investigating a Roma rights activist’s involvement in the census-taking are insignificant compared to damages thereby caused to the integrity of the census and to protecting the privacy of the responses given.

Jóri has clashed with the Hungarian government on issues related to data collection before. One of the most memorable standoffs between the ombudsman and the Hungarian government took place in the summer of 2011 and concerned the Hungarian government’s “social consultation,” a questionnaire sent to every Hungarian citizen 16 years of age or older regarding their approval of the government’s policy goals. The forms were bar-coded (and asked for the name and place of residence of each responder). Jóri ordered deleting the personal data collected through the survey.

Jóri’s objections to the form were followed by statements from the Hungarian prime minister’s spokesperson, Péter Szíjjártó, alleging the ombudsman with acting out of sheer retribution (it was known by that time that Jóri would lose his position as a result of the constitutional changes pushed through by the Hungarian government). Szíjjártó also claimed that the ombudsman’s objections were aimed at undermining public trust in the Hungarian government.

Since the new Hungarian constitution came into effect, protecting the privacy of government-mandated statistical data collection falls under the purview of the newly formed National Agency for Data Protection. Given these transformations, Jóri had been fired from what, under Hungary’s previous constitution, would have been a tenured position not to expire prior to 2014.

Hungary’s new constitution allows for the prime minister to dismiss the supervisor of the  new data protection agency at will. The EU has initiated an infringement proceeding into the matter, which is becoming a hotly contested legal issue between the Hungarian government and the European Union.

Source: The Contrarium Hungarian blog

HUMAN RIGHTS ALERT: Discriminatory actions against Hungarian Jai Bhim Buddhist Community

23 02 2012

By Jura Nanuk/CERFI

Hungarian Jai Bhim Buddhist Community operates several educational programs for Roma children and young adults in Hungary, using philosophy of Buddhism to help their integration into Hungarian society. In their work they are following the example of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Indian political leader and philosopher, born in untouchable caste, so called Dalits. Ambedkar converted to Buddhisms and inspired many of Dalits to do the same thus escaping humiliating life of untouchable Indian caste.

On February 23, police came to Sajokaza village to “investigate” the fact that in small Roma village 300 inhabitants identified themselves as Buddhists in last population census. Authorities found this suspicious and started an “investigation”, which might be represent violation of Data Protection Law, as religious affiliation is considered sensitive personal data per Hungarian law, and nobody has the rights to investigate somebodies religious affiliation.

Day latter, police entered Jai Bhim school building in Sajokaza, arresting three teenage girls. The girls were arrested and handcuffed and taken into local police station. From the recording of the school security cameras which recorded in full the arrest, it is clearly visible there was absolutely no need to use the handcuffs as the girls were not resisting the arrest and were not representing threat to themselves or others.

Needless to say, Hungarian Jai Bhim community lost their religious status due to repressive Hungarian law on churches  which affected hundreds of Hungarian religious communities.  When Jai Bhim’s  request for re-registration was refused by justification that they filed the papers one day too late which has nothing to do with the truth.

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Letter from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary

18 01 2012

Strasbourg, 12/01/12  – “Major legislative changes have been adopted in Hungary after minimal public consultation and without sufficient consideration of crucial human rights principles. Recent decisions affecting the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression and freedom of religion raise serious concerns”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing today a letter addressed to the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs about the new Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, which deprives a great number of religious denominations of their church status.

Full text of the letter is available in pdf format from the website of Council of Europe. For access to the full text please click here.

Photo courtesy of Council of Europe Image Bank

Looming De-registration of Churches in Hungary Prompts IRLA Meeting with Ambassador

24 12 2011

More than 300 religious organizations are set to lose legal status on Jan. 1

Dec. 13, 2011 … International Religious Liberty Association leaders met this week with the Hungarian ambassador to the United States in an effort to help officials from that country better understand the potential effects of a looming deregistration of churches.The Law of Churches, set for implementation on January 1, would deregister all but 14 religious denominations in Hungary.

Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, Gyorgy Szapary, met with IRLA deputy secretary generals Dwayne Leslie and Ganoune Diop on December 12 at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, D.C. While the law is still set for implementation, the IRLA representatives later described the meeting as “cordial” and “productive.”

“We expressed our deep concerns to Ambassador Szapary about Hungary’s recently passed ‘Law on Churches’ and its impact, not just on the Adventist Church, but on many other minority religions as well,” said Dwayne Leslie, director of legislative affairs for the IRLA. Leslie represented the IRLA at the meeting along with Ganoune Diop, the organization’s representative to the United Nations.

Following Monday’s meeting, Diop said the ambassador was gracious and receptive to the issues presented.”The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for dialogue — we stated our concerns clearly, and heard the perspective of the Hungarian government,” he said.

When the new law, voted in July, goes into effect next month, it will strip all but 14 “historic” religions of their legal status. Minority religions must then apply to the Hungarian parliament for re-registration.

Since the legislation was passed, Hungary has maintained that the move was not “anti-religion,” but rather a legislative means to root out fraudulent organizations operating behind the protection of religion.

Religious liberty advocates worldwide, however, have decried the law, calling it unnecessary state interference with religion and a setback for human rights in Hungary. More than 300 groups are set to lose their registration, including Hungary’s Methodists, Unitarians, a number of Islamic communities, and many smaller Protestant and evangelical churches.

Source: Bettina Krause/IRLA

HUNGARIAN LAW ON CHURCHES: Open Letter of US Congressmen to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

18 12 2011

We write as Members of the Congress of the United States to express our deep concern about Hungary’s new “Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities,” which was adopted on July 12, 2011. We applaud the Hungarian Constitution’s commitment to religious freedom and hope that Hungary will remain committed to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religion.

We understand that the “Religion Law” of 1990 gave religious groups “registered” status in order to perform their important social and charitable work. However, several religious and human rights organizations in Hungary, Europe and here in the United States have informed us that the new religion law will “de-register” all but 14 of the more than 350 religious groups currently registered. With the bill’s passage, thousands of congregations-from Methodists to Evangelicals to Muslims-will automatically lose their “registered” legal status on January 1, 2012. Further, we are concerned that in order to “re-register” and gain legal recognition, these de-registered groups will have to meet seven different criteria and win a two-thirds majority vote of the Hungarian Parliament.

The new religion law thus establishes the Parliament as the competent authority on religious communities, putting it in the business of evaluating and judging beliefs, doctrines and values, and of determining which groups are acceptable and which are not. This action will politicize the process and violate the duty of the state to be neutral when it comes to religion.

Moreover, it will inevitably result in discrimination against minority religious groups. As we understand it, the new religion law contravenes the human rights norms, standards and instruments of the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations, and it ignores the relevant decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. For instance, we have seen that the European Parliament has called on the Hungarian government to “guarantee equal protection of the rights of every citizen, no matter which religious group they belong to, in accordance with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.” In addition twenty-four members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States signed a motion for a resolution that expressed “serious concern with respect to recent developments related to the rule of law, human rights and the functioning of democratic institutions in Hungary.” It also requested a human rights monitoring procedure to ensure Hungarian compliance with the European Convention for Human Rights and other Council instruments Hungary has signed and ratified.

Furthermore, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia’s testimony before Congress on July 26, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated during her June 30th visit to Hungary:

The United States will ask the government to carefully reconsider the new law on “the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities,” which requires re-registration of all but 14 religious groups, negatively impacting the religious freedom atmosphere in Hungary.

We write to echo the European Parliament’s call on the Hungarian government to “guarantee equal protection of the rights of every citizen” and to reiterate the U.S. Secretary of

State’s call for the Hungarian government to reconsider the new religion law. We urge your government to make substantive revisions to bring the new law into conformity with the Hungarian constitution and the international human rights instruments Hungary has signed and ratified.


Hungarian Hare Krishna community setting a good example

15 12 2011

The Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness is the main representative of the Hindu world religion in Hungary. The Krishna devotees are known for their diligent religious practices, dedicated distribution of eternal spiritual wisdom and pure, exemplary lifestyles. Their efforts and achievements in assisting underprivileged people, as well as in fighting environmental problems and promoting sustainability, are also well known and valued worldwide.

Recent Hungarian law on churches threatened their religious status and put a question mark over the future of their agricultural land in Hungary, known as Krishna-valley. Hungarian law on arable land says only the State, churches and individuals have right to own arable land. If Krishna community would lose its religious status due to new draconian law on churches, their 270-hectare farm – a home to 300 monks and sacred cows – might become State property overnight.

On the 13th of December, they held a peaceful demonstration with their homeless-to-be cows, monks and families in front of the Hungarian Parliament. Also, to make their case stronger, they issued a petition, which was signed by tens of thousand people from all over the world in a matter of days.

Indian government officials, businessmen, as well as international Hindu organizations in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed their concern about the issue at the Hungarian Embassies in their respective countries, as well as by sending letters directly to Prime Minister Viktor Orban:

“We are deeply disappointed that Hungary, whose ardent desire for true democracy the whole world could witness and admire over twenty years ago, now is making the mistake of not protecting its citizens` equality  — and discriminates against internationally respected religious organizations.” – Hindu Forum of Europe

“The global efforts of International Society for Krishna Consciousness we represented as faith based best practices, at a recent Hindu American Seva (service) conference at the White House. Their efforts and achievements in fighting environmental problems and promoting sustainability are also well-known and valued worldwide. Their Krishna-Valley farm has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists and more international recognition for Hungary.“ - Hindu American Seva Charities

“On behalf of Hindu Forum of Britain we are requesting that you, Mr. Prime Minister, and the Parliament of Hungary rectify this situation as soon as possible. We are especially urging the Hungarian Parliament to re-establish the church status of all Hindu Groups in Hungary. Including the Society for Krishna Consciousness, which is a part of the 5000 year old Hindu Faith and a representative of the Gaudia Vaishnava Tradition.” - Hindu Forum of Britain

“On behalf of the Hindu community, we are respectfully requesting that this situation is rectified as soon as possible by repealing the legislation or amending its discriminatory provisions. We are fully convinced that the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness is worthy of all your support, as it is a tremendous asset not only to the Hungarian people, but also to the international community.” - Hindu American Foundation


With their non-confrontational, peace loving ways, Hungarian Krishna community is setting a good example in protecting religious freedom in Hungary.


Jura Nanuk,
Central-European Religious Freedom Institute 

Photo by Vajda József/Nepszava

Hungary Threatens Religious Liberty

12 12 2011

By Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute

Religious repression typically occurs in Islamic or authoritarian regimes. Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Cuba, Pakistan and Burma come to mind. But it appears that European democracies are not immune from the virus. Unfortunately, Hungary has adopted legislation which undermines this most basic liberty.

Hungary has a well-earned reputation for fighting for freedom. It was the locus of revolutionary ferment in 1848, which was suppressed by the Austrian empire only with the help of Tsarist Russia. In 1956 Hungarians revolted against their Soviet overlords. Although the revolution was brutally crushed, the people’s spirit of resistance forced the new Hungarian communist leadership to rule with a lighter economic hand. In 1989 Budapest turned the modest freedom wave rolling through the Soviet bloc into a tsunami by tearing down the border fence with Austria. The result was a large break in the Iron Curtain which could not be closed.

Democratic Hungary joined both the European Union and NATO. With the implosion of the left-leaning government last year Fidesz, the Hungarian Civic Union, and its smaller partner, KDNP, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, won more than two thirds of the National Assembly seats. (Fidesz is by far the dominant partner; the two parties run on a shared list.) Prime Minister Viktor Orban took office with an opportunity to transform his nation.

Unfortunately, however, the observation that a parliamentary system often turns into a democratic dictatorship proved to be true. Prime Minister Orban has exhibited authoritarian tendencies.

Over the last year, reports the human rights group Freedom House, Hungary moved backward in terms of civil society, independent media, national democratic governance and judicial independence. The individual setbacks were modest, but collectively represent a worrisome erosion of basic liberties. Freedom House still rates Hungary as free, but moving in a negative direction.

Explained the organization, the new government reduced various governmental checks and balances. The Orban ministry also ”curtailed freedom of speech through the adoption of new media legislation; intimidated the judiciary by summoning judges to parliamentary hearings on cases related to the riots of 2006; changed election procedures to give the ruling parties an edge in the October municipal elections; and nationalized the savings in a system of compulsory private pension funds.”

Much attention has focused on the government’s restrictive new media law. Reported Freedom House: “Hungary received a downward trend arrow due to the government’s efforts to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions, including the creation of a new media council dominated by the ruling party that has the ability to impose large fines on broadcast print, and online media outlets.”

The State Department raised similar concern in its annual report on human rights. New laws “broadened the range of views whose expression was illegal” and “concentrated authority over the media in a single government body with wide-ranging authorities.” A report for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe warned that the legislation introduced “stricter regulation, more pervasive controls and limitations on freedom of expression.”

While the government might not abuse its new powers, the temptation to punish journalists for the content of their speech, especially when it is critical of the government, will be strong if not overwhelming. Moreover, journalists will feel pressure to self-censure. For instance, a public radio station suspended two employees who held a moment of silence to protest passage of the new law.

Less remarked upon but equally serious is the threat posed by a new law on religious liberty. Until now there had been little complaint over the government’s treatment of believers. In fact, Budapest had been returning property seized during communist rule.

However, in July the parliament, with little debate, hurriedly adopted the “Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions, and Religious Community.” The Institute on Religion and Public Policy, with which I am affiliated, warned that the legislation ”is the most egregious example of a disturbing trend in Hungary to undermine human rights.”

Under the law, only 14 of 362 Hungarian religious organizations registered under the earlier law (passed in 1990) will be officially recognized. As a number of Hungarian human rights activistspointed out in an open letter, “Among the churches that were discriminated against are, to mention only a few, Hungary’s Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventists and reform Jewish churches; the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses; and all the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hinduist congregations.”

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. At the last minute the government substituted parliamentary for judicial review. This system, explained the Institute in its detailed assessment of the legislation, is “the most burdensome registration system” in Europe. Observed one Hungarian newspaper, “Gods are now sitting in parliament” who get to decide who constitutes a church and who does not.

The law represents discrimination more characteristic of “countries such as Russia and Malaysia” rather than liberal democracies, noted Paula Schriefer of Freedom House. The Institute warned that “a tiered system offering an inferior religious status to minority faiths violates the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from religious discrimination.” In a challenge to similarly discriminatory Austrian legislation, the European Court for Human Rights opined: “a distinction based essentially on a difference in religion alone is not acceptable.”

Without question those faiths at greatest disadvantage will be those with smaller numbers of adherents and less popular doctrines. The 20-year requirement helps protect existing churches — institutions as much as beliefs — from challenge. In fact, Zoltan Tarr, General Secretary of the Hungarian Reformed Church, was open about his support of the measure for this reason: “We wanted a new law to make it more difficult to establish churches here — and we’re happy the present government has now done something.” He added that: “We’re very much for freedom of worship and believe everyone should have the right to practice their religion. But this law represents a positive step, since it excludes quite a few communities which don’t legitimately qualify as churches.” Russia did much the same, though with a less onerous 15-year standard. It was a system designed to benefit the Orthodox Church and other established faiths.

Tossing recognition into parliament is an invitation to abuse. Observed the Institute: “Registration is reduced to a beauty contest, requiring a substantial majority vote, allowing votes to be cast on purely discriminatory grounds while making a mockery of the strict requirements of impartiality and neutrality in matters of religion. The law authorized the state to employ the lethal weapon of religious doctrine and beliefs.” Indeed, the legislation was initially proposed by the sectarian KDNP. Party Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen said he wanted to “make order” since it was “abnormal” to have so many churches.

So far, at least, unofficial churches will continue to be able to operate, though they will not be allowed to call themselves “churches.” In the short-term the major effect of the legislation may be to limit which churches can receive cash from the government — subsidies actually have been increased this year, even though Budapest recently went to the International Monetary Fund for potential financial help.

Direct public funding of religion always is a bad idea, especially for churches themselves. It is no coincidence that the least vibrant, most decrepit churches in Europe are state churches dependent on the state for succor. In contrast, religious liberty, which necessarily includes separation from the state, in America has delivered a far more vibrant community of faith.

However, many of the funds went not to religious promotion but to social services “for the homeless, the elderly and the poor,” noted the activist letter-writers. Whether public monies should be funneled through religious institutions even for such good works is an important question — and one debated in the U.S. However, discriminating against particular faiths is wrong, the sort of dangerous sectarianism which Americans sought to prevent through the First Amendment.

Moreover, not just money is at stake in Hungary. Having derecognized most churches, Budapest will deny accreditation to any schools managed by those churches. That represents a significant threat to educational as well as religious liberty.

Indeed, explained the Institute for Religion and Public Policy: “key activities for religious organizations such as operating religious-spiritual, educational, training, higher educational, medical, charitable, social family, child or youth protection, culture or sport institutions or carrying out these activities; producing or selling publications and religious objects necessary for the religious spiritual activities; and partial utilization of a real estate used for church purposes will no longer quality as religious activities for de-registered religious associations. Instead, they will be considered as economic activities for de-registered organizations while they continue to be considered religious activities for religions that remain registered.”

The National Security Service review was added through an amendment from the extreme nationalist Jobbik party. Whether directed against Muslims or members of other faiths, the measure provides largely unreviewable grounds for restricting religious liberty. Warned Institute chairman Joseph Grieboski, “It is simply improper to play the ‘national security’ card to build long term restrictions and impediments into normal religious association laws.”

As serious as is the law’s practical application today, the measure’s future implications are even more worrisome. Dividing churches and faiths through political decisions based on arbitrary criteria and political decisions threatens free religious belief and practice. Religious minorities would be a convenient scapegoat should economic and political problems grow in the future. A country which suffered so under communism should be particularly sensitive to the potential for abuse of government power.

Of course, the danger in Hungary pales compared to the problem of religious persecution elsewhere. In Egypt, for instance, violent attacks on the Coptic minority are increasing. In Afghanistan and Iraq, both supported by U.S. troops, Christians and other religious minorities suffer discrimination and worse.

However, Washington’s policy inconsistencies and hypocrisies are evident to the world. It is important for the U.S. government — and, more importantly, the American people — to speak out when the violator of religious liberty is a historically Christian nation, friendly state and member of the European Union and NATO. And especially when the violator should know better, as with Hungary, which has suffered so much under tyranny and struggled so hard to gain freedom.

Source: Huffington Post
Photo by SITA/AP

Vatican council sends Deepavali greetings to Hindus

29 11 2011

Vatican City - The Vatican Council for Interreligious Dialogue has offered its “cordial greetings” to Hindus celebrating the feast of Deepavali. The council proposed religious freedom as the answer to religiously motivated conflicts.

“May God, the source of all light, illumine your hearts, homes and communities for a life of peace and prosperity,” said the Oct. 20 message, signed by the council president Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and the council secretary Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata.

The three-day Deepavali celebrations begin this year on Oct. 26. They mark the beginning of a new year and are a time for Hindus to take part in family reconciliation and adoration of the divine.

The Council for Inter-religious Dialogue traditionally shares a reflection on the occasion. This year it chose the subject of religious freedom because it is at center stage in many places. The subject calls attention to “those members of our human family exposed to bias, prejudice, hate propaganda, discrimination and persecution on the basis of religious affiliation.”

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, they said.

“When it is jeopardized or denied, all other human rights are endangered. Religious freedom necessarily includes immunity from coercion by any individual, group, community or institution,” they explained.

The message comes after several years of tensions and anti-Christian violence in some parts of India. Hindu radicals have participated in deadly attacks that have driven Christians out of their homes and destroyed their churches.

The Vatican council said that the human freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion or belief can take place in public or private, alone or in a community.

The right to religious freedom also involves a “serious obligation” from civil authorities, individuals and groups to respect the freedom of others. It also includes the freedom to change one’s own religion.

The council’s letter observed that respect for religious freedom allows believers to be “more enthusiastic” about cooperating with their fellow citizens to build “a just and human social order.” Its denial stifles and frustrates “authentic and lasting peace.”

The council noted areas like the defense of life and the dignity of the family, the education of children, honesty in daily life and the preservation of natural resources as areas in which believers can make a specific contribution to the common good.

“Let us strive, then, to join hands in promoting religious freedom as our shared responsibility, by asking the leaders of nations never to disregard the religious dimension of the human person,” the council said.

“We cordially wish you a joyful celebration of Deepavali.”

Source: Catholic News Agency

A Lie Repeated Thousand Times Becomes Truth?

13 09 2011

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.

Sincerely yours,

Jura Nanuk,
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”.

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


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