Hungary urged to revoke church law

[JURIST] Sixteen Hungarian churches have appealed to the country's Constitutional Court [official website, in Hungarian] seeking to block a controversial church law that purportedly violates the separation of church and state. The "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community," passed by the Hungarian Parliament in a 254-43 vote on July 12, grants formal recognition [BosNewsLife report] to only 14 of 358 religious organizations in Hungary. The law recognizes predominant religious denominations including Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox, along with a few Jewish organizations. The excluded groups will automatically lose their registration status on January 1, 2012, thereby losing financial support and tax breaks from the government. Freedom House [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text, PDF] to the Human Rights Commissioners of the European Commission and the Council of Europe [official websites] asking the international authorities to initiate action against Hungary, claiming the law violates Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights [texts]. Freedom House said the law is inconsistent with Hungary's constitution [press release] and condemned Hungary for passing the law:

This unabashed violation of freedom and equality of religions is paired with an open about-face from the separation of religious and political institutions that was achieved in our democratic transition twenty years ago. ... Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe.
The churches have sent their letter [BBJ report] to various government officials, including President Pal Schmitt [EU profile] and Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official profile].

Several countries have recently enacted measures to both limit and expand religious freedom. A Russian court ruled [statement text, in Russian] in July that the main texts of Scientology, including What Is Scientology?, are "calls to extremist activity" and placed them on the Federal List of Extremist Materials [text, in Russian], effectively banning them in Russia [JURIST report]. The UN Human Rights Council [official website] in March 2010 adopted a resolution [text, PDF] condemning religious defamation [JURIST report]. In 2007, Belgian prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen said Scientology should be classified as a criminal organization [JURIST report] after completing a 10-year investigation into the church's activities.

 

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