On April 8, European political weekly newspapers New Europe
published an Open letter
to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
We, the undersigned, wish to make our voices heard and our concerns expressed with regards to the Hungarian Act CCVI of 2011 on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities that restricts religious freedom.
The Act stripped Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and hundreds of other religious communities of their church status and forced them to undergo a highly arbitrary procedure should they wish to register as a religion.
Because of this legislation which we consider to be a violation of Hungarian Constitution and of fundamental human rights, dozens of religious denominations are deprived of fundamental rights they had acquired under the previous legislation:
- they are not included in the category of religious communities which will go on enjoying the same rights as before and are exempt from re-registration;
- they have to apply for re-registration and to this end to collect the personal data and the signatures of 1000 members instead of 100 previously;
- they cannot re-register through a court proceeding as before but have to submit their application to the Parliament and need a 2/3 majority vote;
- they have to go through a preliminary screening of a state authority (Ministry of Public Administration and Justice) implying an evaluation of their beliefs;
- they have no legal redress in case of rejection but will have to apply for the status of “religious association” under the law governing civil associations (also under revision) and if they fail to do so, they will be liquidated and their assets nationalised ;
- they will lose a number of tax exemption advantages while the registered communities will go on enjoying them;
The de-registration process will affect the support by religious groups to different communities and activities, including the care for homeless, the elderly, the poor, prisoners and minorities. It will affect amongst other things educational support, the provision of shelter and assistance to those disadvantaged in society as these religious communities will no longer have the proper legal framework from which to operate.
The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship founded and led by Methodist Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, which provides food and shelter for some thousands of homeless people, lost its church status and is not entitled anymore for state support of its charitable work.
Jai Bhim Buddhist Community which contributes to social integration of young Roma adults and children, not only lost its religious recognition but was subjected to a police raid.
All of this is reminiscent of some long forgotten time and has no place in today’s modern Europe.
On 19 March 2012, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe published a 15-page Opinion about the new Hungarian Religion Law in which it expressed serious reservations (See http://www.venice.coe.int/docs/2012/CDL-AD(2012)004-e.pdf). It found that retroactively de-registering religious organizations offends international human rights standards. It also found that the Parliamentary vote on registration offends due process, withholds necessary procedural guarantees, and offends the obligation of state neutrality and objectivity. Moreover, it found the national security criteria to be in violation of European Charter of Human Rights and the standards of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
We hereby call for this legislation to be repealed and religious freedom being protected in the interest of all citizens of Hungary.
Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers International
Founder and President of the Institute on Religion & Public Policy
Secretary General of Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
Rev. Drs. Wytske Dijkstra,
Chair of External Relations Committee of International Association for Religious Freedom
President of Universal Society of Hinduism
General Counsel and CEO the International Human Rights Group
President of Mahatma Gandhi Human Rights Organisation
President of the Confederation of Hungarian Small Churches
President of Hungarian Jai Bhim Buddhist Community
Founder of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute
For more information about the new law on religions in Hungary, please contact
CERFI: Contact through their website: http://www.cerf-institute.org
HRWF: International.firstname.lastname@example.org – Website: http://www.hrwf.org
IRPP: Contact through their website: http://www.religionandpolicy.org
FOREF: email@example.com – Website: http://foref.info