European Court of Human Rights: Hungary Breached Freedom of Religion
by Veronika Gulyas
BUDAPEST, April 8, 2014 (TWSJ) –The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Hungary breached the freedom of religion and the freedom of association when stripped minor religious groups of their status as churches.
The Church Act, which took effect in January 2012, says the Hungarian parliament has the right to decide in a two-thirds majority vote whether a given religious community or church may attain a recognized church status and also, which church gets state subsidy.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban was reelected to power for another four-year term, with his Fidesz party likely winning a two-thirds majority again.
After a Constitutional Court decision last year, which found certain provisions of the Church Act unconstitutional, Hungary recognizes religious communities as having the same legal standing as recognized churches, but this still doesn’t necessarily mean they also receive state financing.
Churches still need to be recognized officially in Hungary to operate, based not only on formalities but also after considerations such as whether their operations aren’t a threat to national security. This process is now done by the government and parliament, instead of the earlier practice when only the parliament had a say.
Prior to the Church Act of 2012, religious communities had been registered as churches by courts based solely on formal requirements in Hungary and received state funding automatically.
Many of the former churches lost their fully incorporated church status after the parliament recognition. The Strasbourg Court now ruled that this breached the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of association.
“The US government is deeply concerned that no modifications have been made to the Law on Churches. Outside observers note the rules for religions to gain recognition are prohibitively cumbersome, and the requirement for two-thirds approval by Parliament unnecessary politicizes decisions surrounding a basic human right,” Ms. Clinton wrote.
The court said Hungary couldn’t prove that there wasn’t any less drastic way to monitor which religious groups receive subsidies, and said: “the measure imposed by the Church Act had not been necessary in a democratic society.”
The government wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The European Court of Human Rights cannot oblige the parliament in any way to modify the country’s Church Act, said Szabolcs Hegyi, program manager at human rights watchdog Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.