HUNGARY: Deregistration of religious communities – A professor of Texas Lutheran University reacts to MEP György Hölvenyi’s comment

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HUNGARY: Deregistration of religious communities – A professor of Texas Lutheran University reacts to MEP György Hölvenyi’s comment

Published by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF)

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Chain-Bridge-Budapest-Hungary

(HRWF) – Following the publication of The Economist blog post “A slippery Magyar Slope” (25th September 2014) and MEP György Hölvényi’s comment about it in our Newsletter, we received a reaction of Prof. David Baer from the Texas Lutheran University that we share below with you:

David Baer (13.10.2014) – Mr. Holvenyi’s writes to defend a church law that the ECtHR has found to breach the European Convention and which the Hungarian government refuses to amend. He would thus have us believe that religious communities in Hungary enjoy religious freedom even as they are not protected by the rule of law.

Mr. Holvenyi urges that we stick to the facts. The fact is that in 2011 the government of Hungary retroactively “deregistered” religious communities already recognized as churches under Hungarian law. The fact is that in 2013 Hungary’s Constitutional Court found this deregistration procedure unconstitutional. The fact is that after 2013 the government of Hungary blatantly ignored the Court’s decision, refusing to treat unconstitutionally deregistered religious communities as legal churches. The fact is that in 2014 the European Court of Human Rights found that Hungary’s unconstitutional church law also violated the right of religious freedom and the European Convention. The fact is that the Hungarian government has still not, as of this day, acted to abide by the European Court’s decision.

Mr. Holvenyi knows these facts, because prior to being an MP in the European Parliament he was the state undersecretary responsible for dealing with the churches in Viktor Orban’s government. As undersecretary, Holvenyi worked closely with Zoltan Balog, Minister of Human Capacities, to obstruct implementation of the Constitutional Court’s decision so as to deny deregistered religious communities their constitutional rights. Just this past month, Peter Paczolay, the president of Hungary’s Constitutional Court, lamented openly in a public address that the Court’s decision on Hungary’s church law had never been respected or implemented. Mr. Holvenyi bears direct responsibility for this. Thus, to listen to him aver that Hungary’s deregistered churches enjoy religious freedom is a little like listening to man caught stealing his neighbor’s shirt and pants aver that his neighbor has the freedom to wear underwear.

Religious communities in Hungary enjoy religious freedom the way NGO’s in Hungary enjoy freedom of association. Denied equality under the law and subject to opaque regulations, deregistered religious communities, like unpopular NGO’s, are subjected to arbitrary and expensive audits, hindered or prevented from raising money, attacked in the government controlled media, and harassed by local officials. Mr. Holvenyi, a member of the European Parliament, should know that when citizens aren’t equal under the law they aren’t equally free.

Instead of defending Hungary’s indefensible church law, perhaps Mr. Holvenyi should encourage the government of his country to respect the rule of law, uphold its international commitments, and abide by the European Convention.

David Baer
Texas Lutheran University, USA

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