In 2011, the Hungarian government passed a law which reduced the number of legally recognized churches from over 200 to merely 14. Within the year, the number of recognized churches doubled due to international pressure, however, even following a decision made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in 2014, Hungary has failed to reinstate recognition for the remaining unrecognized churches.
Forum for Religious Freedom (FOREF) Europe is an NGO defending the right to freedom of conscience, religion, and belief, as found in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They aim to protect, promote, monitor, advocate, and support within the field of freedom of religion and belief. FOREF addressed the case of the Hungarian Church Law at the OSCE meeting in Warsaw this year.
This is the statement made by FOREF at the OSCE HDIM 2016:
Hungary ignores ruling of the European Court of Human Rights
In 2011 Hungary enacted a new law on the legal status of churches (Act CCVI of 2011). The law stripped approximately 200 religious communities of legal personality, and reduced the number of legally recognized churches in Hungary to 14. In February 2012, responding to international pressure, Parliament expanded the number of recognized churches to 31. In February 2013, Hungary's Constitutional Court ruled the deregistration of recognized churches had been unconstitutional. Responding to the Court's decision, Parliament amended the constitution in March 2013. In June and September 2013, Parliament amended Act CCVI to create a two-tiered classification consisting of "religious communities" and "incorporated churches." In September 2013, Parliament also amended the constitution explicitly to grant Parliament the authority to select religious communities for "cooperation" with the state in the service of "public interest activities." In April 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary that Hungary had violated articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a judgment which became final in September 2014. In Fall September 2015 the Government of Hungary made public a new draft of the church law, but ignored suggestions from Hungary’s opposition political parties and NGO’s intended to improve the bill. In December 2015, the Government of Hungary introduced the bill unaltered to Parliament and failed to secure the necessary 2⁄3 majority vote in Parliament to pass. Since failing to pass the bill through Parliament, the Government of Hungary has taken no further steps to amend its church law, nor has it taken steps to address the ongoing violations of the right of religious freedom identified by the ECtHR.
Many deregistered religious communities in Hungary currently exist in a legal no man’s land, recognized neither as churches nor as religious associations. As entities without clear legal status they are unable to collect the 1% voluntary church tax, their clergy are denied tax exemptions given to legally recognized churches, and their ability to maintain schools and enter into contracts is severely impaired. The longer their legal status remains unresolved, the harder it becomes for deregistered churches to maintain their institutions, thereby forcing them to function informally in a legal underground. In the absence of a long overdue legal remedy, many small religious communities in Hungary may soon cease to exist.
The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) calls upon the Government of Hungary
(1) To introduce legislation to Parliament that will amend Hungary’s law on the legal status of churches in a way that harmonizes with Helsinki standards, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the ruling of the ECtHR in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary.
(2) Restore the legal status of churches stripped of legal personality in 2011 through a procedure ruled unconstitutional by Hungary’s Constitutional Court and found in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights.
FOREF urges the Government of Hungary to address the current violations of religious freedom occurring in Hungary without delay, to restore the original legal status of religious groups illegally stripped of legal personality in 2011, and to amend the law on the legal status of churches to accord with Helsinki standards, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
*This statement has been extracted from the official intervention made by FOREF at the OSCE HDIM 2016