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US report criticises Hungarian church law

July 31, 2012

The US State Department has criticised parts of Hungary's church law and the strengthening of the radical nationalist Jobbik party in its international report of religious freedom for 2011. As the Hungarian news agency MTI reports, in terms of the Hungarian church law, the report criticised rules of registration for religious organisations, as well as the requirement of parliament's consent for recognition. The report noted that the legislation had reduced the number of Hungary's recognised religious groups from over 300 to 32.

The report says the Hungarian constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom. The government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom.

In April 2011 the National Assembly (Parliament) adopted a new Fundamental Law (to enter into effect on January 1, 2012) to replace the previous constitution. The Fundamental Law provides for the freedom of conscience and religion. During the year, Parliament also passed the Act on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the Legal Status of Churches, Religious Denominations, and Religious Communities (Religion Law) in part to regulate the registration of churches, which changed the criteria for religious organizations to be officially recognized by the state. The new law also went into effect on January 1, 2012, and could have the effect of creating an overly political process in determining the status of religious organizations.

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. Radical political groups, including the radical nationalist Jobbik party in Parliament, which grew in size and number, used anti-Semitic rhetoric, which observers stated worked to promulgate political friction and play on fears of economic uncertainty.

During 2011, the U.S. government enhanced its engagement with the country’s legislators and government officials and reached out to representatives of local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in connection with the government’s objective to adopt a new religious law to replace the incumbent 1990 legislation on religious freedom.

In a message delivered to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in December, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed “deep concern” on behalf of the U.S. government about the newly adopted Religion Law, specifically raising registration procedures and the role played by Parliament in the decision to recognize religious communities. The American Ambassador in Budapest routinely raised the new Religion Law directly with senior government officials, including the deputy prime minister and the foreign minister. Additionally, the embassy supported numerous Holocaust education initiatives and roundtable discussions with government partners.


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