New Religion Law in Hungary Should be Repealed


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 statusarethe 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.
Hungary is ranked Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.
For more information on Hungary, visit:
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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.

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