Hungary’s highest court legitimizes segregation in the case of religious schooling

April 23, 2015

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Hungary’s highest court, the Curia, made a precedent-like decision on Wednesday morning, overturning an earlier court decision ordering the closure of a religious school on the grounds that it practiced segregation.  The court changed the first level ruling and stated that the church run school does not practice unlawful segregation because it ran religious education and because the parents enrolled their children to this school of their own accord.

According to legal aid offices with this decision the court gave its blessing to segregation based on religious education.

On Wednesday morning Hungary’s highest court handed down a ruling in the case of Sója Miklós Greek Catholic School and Kindergarten situated in a poor part of the northeastern city of Nyíregyháza. The Chance For Children Foundation (CFCF) initiated the legal action against the school operator, the Greek Catholic Church and the local government of Nyíregyháza, for practicing segregation. According to CFCF the local government violated the prohibition on ethnic segregation as well as regulations prescribing equal treatment when it turned the school over to the Greek Catholic Church in 2010.

The school at Huszár-telep is primarily attended by Roma children.  The church was reportedly looking to take over the operation of a school whose pupils were mainly Roma.

The Curia ruled that the church school’s practice did not constitute unlawful separation because it offers religious education and the parents send their children to this school in the full knowledge that the children receive Greek Catholic religious education. According to CFCF, with this decision the Curia legitimated segregation on religious grounds.  CFCF says the decision makes it impossible for legal aid organizations to win lawsuits brought against segregating institutions.

There is another Greek Catholic institute in the downtown of Nyíregyháza. According to the Curia this enables the parents to freely choose school in Nyíregyháza. According to CFCF this is just another element of the unlawful separation of the Roma children. It is enough to see the huge difference between the conditions of the two schools under the same operator.

Outsourcing segregation

The representatives of CFCF expected the highest court to drop the appeal of the school operator or at least set a deadline for ceasing the segregating practice. Adél Kegye, a co-worker at the legal aid organization, said that “it is proven that the free choice of school cannot be practiced”.  According to their opinion the children of Roma families are frequently rejected from other elementary schools outside their neighborhood. She added that only a very small group of parents said that religious education was a motivating factor. They experienced that most of them enrolled the child to this school because of the close distance or for fear their children will be subject to discrimination at other schools.

CFCF curator Gábor Daróczi, who represented the plaintiff said “the judge basically announced the recipe of the church based segregation.”  In his opinion from now on it is legal to educate children in religious schools separated.  “It seems that the government outsources not just elite education to churches but education of Romas as well” explained Daróczi, referring to the fact that the number of hcurch operated institutions has been increasing since Fidesz came to power in 2010.. The decision means that churches can use the freedom of religion to counter charges of segregation. The local governments or KLIK, as state institutions, cannot be sued because they are not the operators of the institutes.

Daróczi: We turn to the European Court for legal redress

At a short press conference held after the verdict Gábor Daróczi claimed that, even though the Curia did not take testimony given by the Minister for Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, into consideration when making its decision, the minister’s presence at the hearing influenced the court.

At the end of the press conference Daróczi announced they intend to appeal the matter to the European Court.  They hope for a favorable verdict that will result in a infringement process against Hungary.   Similar proceedings exist against Slovakia and the Czech Republic for practicing segregation.