The Venice Commission criticizes the state of religious freedom in Hungary

20 03 2012

The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional law, responded to a request from the government of Hungary for an advisory opinion, by issuing a report on Hungary’s 2011 Act On the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and the Legal Status of Churches, Denominations and Religious Communities. 

The main conclusions of the report are:

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society. In this respect, it may only be restricted by strict criteria set out in international instruments.

States benefit from a large margin of appreciation with regard to the relationship between the church and the state and with regard to the choice of their policies and regulation in this field. The Venice Commission recognises that there is legitimate concern in Hungary to eliminate the abuse of religious organisations, which have operated for illicit and harmful purposes or for personal gain. One of the main justifications for this new Act is the need to prevent some religious organizations from abusing the possibility of receiving public funding. Although various types of solutions have been found throughout Europe, the European guarantees must not be undermined.

As a whole, the Act constitutes a liberal and generous framework for the freedom of
religion. However, although few in number, some important issues remain problematic and fall short of international standards.

The Act sets a range of requirements that are excessive and based on arbitrary criteria with regard to the recognition of a church. In particular, the requirement related to the national and international duration of a religious community and the recognition procedure, based on a political decision, should be reviewed. This recognition confers a number of privileges to churches concerned.

The Act has led to a deregistration process of hundreds of previously lawfully recognised churches, that can hardly be considered in line with international standards.

Finally, the Act induces, to some extent, an unequal and even discriminatory treatment of religious beliefs and communities, depending on whether they are recognised or not.

The Venice Commission was informed that – as a reaction to the draft opinion – the Government intends to introduce amendments, which is welcome. The Commission had no possibility to examine these proposals but it remains at the disposal of the Hungarian authorities for any further assistance.

For the access to the full text of the report, please click here.

Update on Hungarian Law on Churches

30 12 2011

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Short summary of today’s day might sound like this: While Hungarian Parliament Members were voting about the new religious law, people were demonstrating outside the Parliament demanding religious freedom for all.

Although Hungarian Parliament is among the most beautiful parliament buildings in the world, beauty is not enough to prevent some really ugly laws to be created there. The positive news is that request for “100 years of presence in Hungary or Internationally”, was changed back to “20 years of existence in Hungary”.

We are waiting to receive the translation of the final text of the law, and will provide you more detailed update in a couple of days. In the photo gallery below you can see pictures of demonstrations held outside the Parliament as well as the pictures of Parliament from the inside.

We really hope next year will be better, but to make it better all of us will need to work harder, or as one advertisment said “Don’t work harder, work smarter”.


Photo by Jura Nanuk/CERF Institute

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 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

Hungarian pastor on hunger strike protesting against repressive law on churches

30 11 2011

A hunger strike is a method of non-violent resistance or pressure in which participants fast as an act of political protest, or to provoke feelings of guilt in others, usually with the objective to achieve a specific goal, such as a policy change. Most hunger strikers will take liquids but not solid food. A hunger strike cannot be effective if the fact that it is being undertaken is not publicized so as to be known by the people who are to be impressed, concerned or embarrassed by it.

In the first 3 days, the body is still using energy from glucose. After that, the liver starts processing body fat, in a process called ketosis. After 3 weeks the body enters a “starvation mode”. At this point the body “mines” the muscles and vital organs for energy, and loss of bone marrow becomes life-threatening.

Jeremiás Izsák-Bács, a leading pastor of the Hungarian Anabaptist Mission, Hungarian Mennonite Church, has started a hunger strike in Strasbourg on the 10th of November aimed at the new church law which becomes effective on the 1st of January, 2012. The new law deprives 250 churches of their currently recognized religious status with a stroke of a pen. This law forces them to be terminated or to re-register as citizens’ associations. Please help pastor Izsák-Bács by spreading the news about his action through blogs, Facebook and media if possible.

Pastor Izsák-Bács needs financial support for medical supervision of his bodily function and hotel room in Starsbourgh. Hungarian edition of Voice of America published in their online article data on bank account where financial support for pastor Izsák-Bács can be sent:

Bank name: BUDAPEST BANK Rt.
Bank address: 1138 Budapest, Váci út 188. (EU – Hungary)
Account owner: Evangéliumi Szolnoki Gyülekezet Egyház
Address: 5000 Szolnok, TVM. Ltp. Művelődési Ház, (EU – Hungary)
Account number: 10104569 – 72957800 – 00000002
IBAN : HU37 1010 4569 7295 7800 0000 0002

For more information on pastor Izsák-Bács please contact pastor Péter  Soós,  mobil : +36-30-663-0880, E-mail: [email protected]


November 23, 2011, Strasbourg

My name is Jeremiás Izsák-Bács. I am pastor and representative of the Hungarian Mennonite Church. I have been on a hunger strike since November 10 to call the attention to the serious violation of the law inHungary.  

The Hungarian Parliament has adopted a series of laws that restricted the freedom of press and speech, made the electoral law one-sided, deprived citizens of social rights and drastically reduced the employees’ rights.  All of these actions infringe our basic human rights in an unacceptable and unconstitutional manner. 

This unspeakable legislation has also come to the church law. This irregularly forced new church law left untouched the legal status of only 14 churches; the right of every other legally registered church was taken away; starting in January, these groups will only be allowed to operate as societies rather than churches.  This is a fundamental and drastic loss of rights.

I protest against the deprivation of civil rights, the unacceptable restrictions, and I fight for Hungary to return to the legal and democratic norms agreed upon by the European Union!

Jeremiás Izsák-Bács

New Religion Law in Hungary Should be Repealed

11 08 2011


August 9, 2011

Freedom House today called for the repeal of a law on religions recently passed by the Hungarian parliament. At the same time, Freedom House supported concerns raised by15 prominent Hungarians in an open letter to Human Rights Commissioners of the European Commission and the Council of Europe regarding the new law.

The “Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community” was adopted on July 12. Only 14 of the 358 religious groups in Hungary will be granted formal recognition under the law. With the bill’s passage, hundreds of groups automatically lose their “registered” status and as of January 1, 2012 will no longer receive the budgetary allocation provided in support of their social and charitable work. Among the groups that will have to go through a tedious process to regain registered status are the Hungarian Methodist Church and a number of Islamic groups. The law recognizes the Reform, Roman Catholic, Lutheran churches and a number of Jewish groups. In order to be legally recognized, groups have to meet seven different criteria and a two-thirds parliamentary majority must approve the registration application. In order to become legally recognized, religious groups must obtain 1000 citizen signatures and have had a presence in Hungary for 20 years or more.

“It is unconscionable that any democratic country, particularly one that so recently freed itself from a Communist system in which all religious freedom was repressed, could pass such discriminatory legislation,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House.  “This kind of legislation that favors certain religions over others is typical of what one finds in countries such as Russia and Malaysia and is incompatible with liberal democracies.  Freedom House calls on the government of Hungary to adhere to the protections enshrined in its constitution, which includes the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice, and get out of the business of evaluating which religions it deems worthy.”

Hungary’s constitution promotes religious freedom and encourages separation between church and state. The “Religion Law” of 1990 gave many religious groups “registered” status, although only four groups are deemed “historic” by the state and receive government funding: the Roman Catholic Church, the Calvinist Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Communities.  Viktor Orban, the current prime minister and leader of the Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Union party, has threatened to undermine liberal democracy in Hungary by passing legislation consolidating control over the media, institutions and now religion.

Freedom House cosigned a letter sent to Secretary Hillary Clinton on June 28, 2011 urging her to voice her concerns to the Hungarian government on the then-proposed law.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

source: Freedom House

Discriminatory Draft Law in Belgium Violates Fundamental Rights to Freedom of Conscience and Religion

1 08 2011

Proposed legislation in Belgium, voted in the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate, contains provisions designed to discriminate against targeted philosophical, spiritual or religious associations derogatorily designated as “sectarian movements” in violation of the Belgian Constitution which provides in its Article 11.

The rights and liberties of the Belgian people must be assured without discrimination. To this end, the law and the decree guarantee in particular the rights of ideological and philosophical minorities.

The draft legislation globally serves a highly laudable purpose as its primary provisions (37 articles out of 39) are designed for the protection of persons specifically vulnerable due to their age, pregnancy, illness, disability, physical or mental deficiency. However, a House member, André Frédéric, negotiated to have two articles inserted in the draft legislation that are designed to “fight” against ideological or religious minorities through the creation of a new penal offence based not on the criminal activities of such groups, but on the nature of their philosophies or religious doctrines.

These provisions would amend the penal code and criminalize the manifestation of ideologies or religious beliefs by labeling the rites or practices of targeted faiths as “psychological subjection” or “techniques susceptible to alter one’s capacity of discernment”. As a result, any form of recruitment, proselytism and conversion to one of these faiths could be characterized as “abuse of weakness”.

André Frédéric has a long track record stirring up discrimination and intolerance, having participated in numerous conferences, media appearances and authoring law proposals and articles targeting minority faiths as “sectarian movements”, a classification in which he includes Jehovah’s Witnesses and “groups issued from the North-American Protestantism”, Pentecostals, Evangelicals and others.

full version of this text you can find on THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy

THE INSTITUTE Releases Legislative Analysis on Recently Adopted Barbaric Religion Law in Hungary

31 07 2011

THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy today released an official analysis on legislation passed on July 14, 2011 by the Hungarian Parliament. This recently passed law contains provisions that create the most oppressive religion law and the most burdensome registration system in the entire OSCE region.

The legislation, when introduced, proposed a three-tiered system of registration for religious groups in Hungary. THE INSTITUTE published a detailed legal analysis immediately after the law was introduced noting that the content of the bill is not in keeping with international or European standards for human rights and religious freedom. Hungarian and international NGOs, scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates expressed agreement with THE INSTITUTE’s analysis and joined together to criticize the glaring human rights defects in the legislation.

Shockingly, rather than working to correct and remedy the shortcomings in the legislation, Parliament ignored the avalanche of international criticism that the legislation contravened human rights standards. Worse, about two hours before the final vote, without any prior notice, the Fidesz [ruling political party] delegation completely changed key provisions in the bill.

The most surprising and objectionable amendment to the bill introduced without adequate debate or reflection was the decision to remove a provision providing for judicial proceedings for “re-registration” of religious groups and to substitute a new provision stating that “the competent authority to recognize a religious organization is … the Parliament, with a two-thirds vote, rather than the courts or a ministry.”

This provision flouts clearly delineated human rights standards in religious registration cases developed by the European Court of Human Rights in a series of decisions over the last two decades. These standards mandate government neutrality, non-discrimination, religious pluralism and non-evaluation of religious belief.

In the INSTITUTE’S opinion, the Religion Law creates the most burdensome registration system in the entire OSCE region while codifying systematic discrimination of religious minorities.  The Religion Law is completely inconsistent with fundamental human rights as it contravenes the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Click here to see the full analysis.


source: THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy


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