Hungarian Civil Liberties Union to take on controversial church law

March 16, 2016

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The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU/TASZ) is launching a campaign to make sure the government carries out its responsibility to modify the controversial Church Law in accordance with its own constitution and international agreements, but also to avoid having to make additional large reparation payments to organizations unlawfully stripped of their church status.

The campaign is part of a broader effort by the HCLU to raise awareness about the planned amendment to the poor law.

The 2011 Church Law was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 (the court’s decision was upheld in an appeal), thereby prompting the Hungarian government to amend the law in a manner that corrects the human rights violations identified by both Hungary’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

The campaign, named “the Fourth Point”, can be reached via the web at negyedikpont.tasz.hu. Users can also sign a petition on the website.

Hungary’s Church Law is viewed by many in the Hungarian legal community as among the most egregious laws passed by Fidesz since coming to power in 2010. The law was pushed through despite a back-and-forth tussle with the Constitutional Court when the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition finally decided to amend the constitution to make the law’s unconstitutional provisions constitutional.

According to the HCLU, the Church Law proposal fails to conform to the EU standards because

  • it retains the arbitrary definition of religion and religious activity;
  • it discriminates between churches in terms of legal status in an unjustified manner;
  • it ensures unduly extended privileges to some churches, not only vis-a-vis non-religious communities but also in comparison with other churches, in the area of public support of religious life and financing of activities for the public good;
  • it fails to provide adequate legal remedies to churches that, when the legislation comes into force, would be deprived from their legal status as a church;

According to Liberties.eu, “the Church Act, effective since 2012, grants a wide range of privileges and benefits for the churches patronized by the government, while depriving hundreds of existing and operational churches of their legal status…. The amendment proposal prepared by the government would not have restored the legal status of churches that suffered injury, or remedied the inequalities between recognized churches and religious communities; to the contrary, it would have aggravated inequalities by determining three distinct statuses as a church, and would have retained the arbitrary commitment of the state towards certain favored churches.”

The Fourth Point website includes video statements from religious leaders and religious scholars concerning the importance of freedom of religion and the importance of separating church and state. The testimonials include statements from Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood president Rev. Gábor Iványi and Texas Lutheran University professor H. David Baer.