The Hungarian government is set to distribute another USD 30 million to churches before the April 8 general election, according to Tuesday’s edition of the Magyar Közlöny, an official newsletter notifying the public of government decrees. Beneficiaries of the latest round of fiscal transfers from the government to select churches include the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Hungarian Catholic Church, the Hungarian Lutheran Church, and three Jewish faith organizations.
This marks the latest in a series of massive contributions from the state to Hungarian churches before the election.
The new decree was made public the same day MTI, Hungary’s state-run news service, reported that Prime Minister Orbán met with Catholic Church leaders at a conference of Hungarian bishops.
Carrot and the stick
In May 2017, we reported that the government had quietly gifted churches more than USD 413 million at the end of 2016. Huge contributions have also been made to church-affiliated aid organizations. State support of churches is not limited to fiscal transfers, but includes the gifting of valuable real estate — as was the case recently with the gifting of a building and cash to the Hungarian Baptist Church.
Churches and church-affiliated organizations play a major role in Hungarian politics. To cite a recent example from Hódmezővásárhely, just weeks before a mayoral by-election, a Catholic vicar took the podium after Sunday mass to encourage the laity to remember all the things the Catholic church and the city have received from Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party. Earlier this week, it was reported that the city would be getting another temple. During the refugee crisis, prominent Baptist and Catholic church leaders, toeing the government line, downplayed the need to aid asylum-seekers in Hungary.
Not all churches are winners
In 2011, the Fidesz-KDNP supermajority adopted controversial legislation commonly known as the Church Law. This law stripped numerous churches of their state-recognized church status, thus limiting their ability to solicit deductible donations and collect church-related subsidies. The law has been ruled unconstitutional by Hungary’s own Constitutional Court and as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights. And yet it remains on the books to this day.