Hungarian Parliament Resurrects Soviet Past with Adoption of Restrictive Religion Law

While Communism officially ended in Hungary over 20 years ago, it appears the dictatorial mindset has not yet fully abated.
Last night after midnight, the Hungarian parliament procured for the country the title of Worst Religion Law in Europe when it adopted its new “Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities.”
“I am both saddened and disappointed by the adoption of such a draconian law,” commented The Institute on Religion and Public Policy’s Founder and Chairman, Joseph K. Grieboski. “I have known and worked closely with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, most recently on the new constitution, and expected much more from him. The law is a danger to all Hungarian society and a terrible indication of the state of democracy in the country.”
As the Pastor of an evangelical Church noted on passage of the bill: “This is the greatest discrimination against evangelical Christians since the fall of Communism. This is just the first step against real, active, Bible-believing Christian groups. During Communism we were oppressed and persecuted, but we didn’t expect the same from a so-called ‘Christian’ government.”
Over one hundred currently registered religious organizations will be retroactively stripped of their status as religious communities and “de-registered” as religious organizations, losing key rights and privileges provided to registered Churches. Only fourteen religious organizations will retain their registration status, while all others in the country will be forced to reregister.
Religious organizations that have been “de-registered” may not use the name “Church” and will also lose their status as a religious organization if they are not “re-registered” through burdensome proceedings. In addition, “re-registration” can only occur if a minority religious community meets onerous duration levels designed to suppress minority religious freedom in complete contravention of European Human Rights Court’s and OSCE’s standards.
The amendments added to the legislation further restrict the rights of religious communities in Hungary by imposing illegal national security restrictions. Such amendments violate fundamental international human rights law and international human rights instruments that Hungary has signed and ratified. Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), national security does not form a proper basis to impose restrictions on religious freedom. National Security is consistently excluded from the list of permissible grounds for restricting freedom of religion in all major international interests.
According to the most surprising amendment, the competent authority to recognize a religious organization is now the parliament, with a two-third vote, rather than the courts or a ministry. A religious organization seeking recognition must now request the registration from the Minister who will initiate the request to the parliament. After the two-thirds vote by parliament, the religious organization is added to the list of recognized religions and an order is sent to the Court to register the organization within 30 days.
In January 2011, twenty-four members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States (Monitoring Committee) signed a Motion for a Resolution entitled “Serious Setbacks in the Fields of the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Hungary.” The Resolution expressed the Parliamentary Assembly members “serious concern with respect to recent developments related to the rule of law, human rights and the functioning of democratic institutions in Hungary.” Last week, two Co-Rapporteurs from the Council of Europe traveled to Hungary to investigate these serious setbacks in human rights in Hungary and to report to the Monitoring Committee as to whether a formal human rights monitoring procedure should be initiated.
The passage of this draconian Religion Law is the latest and most disturbing example of this serious setback of human rights and the rule of law in Hungary. The legislation contravenes OSCE, European Union, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights and United Nations standards because it clearly discriminates against minority religious groups.
Today, The Institute on Religion and Public Policy once again urges the Monitoring Committee to take action to initiate a human rights monitoring procedure to ensure compliance by Hungary with the Human Rights Convention and other Council international instruments that it has signed and ratified.
“In the midst of celebrating the break from its Soviet past by crafting a new constitution, erecting a statute of Ronald Reagan, and opening the Tom Lantos Human Rights Institute, the Government of Hungary has thrust the nation back into a system of repressive and restrictive legislation with this new law,” Mr. Grieboski commented. “My only hope is that similar to the case of the media law in January, the Government will realize the terrible mistake it has made and return the law to Parliament for revision, and ideally put it in line with international and European human rights standards.”
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