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  • February 2013 : Partial annulment of the controversial law on religions

In late February 2013, the Constitutional Court pronounced the partial annulment of the 2011 CCVI Law (see Current Debates - Autumn 2011) on freedom of conscience and the legal status of churches. The Court declared unconstitutional two aspects of this law : the lack of clear legal criteria for obtaining recognition of the status of “recognised religion” through Parliament and the impossibility of appealing the decision.

This organic law establishes the list of churches, communities and religious movements officially recognised by the Hungarian State. The list mentions 32 recognised religious communities, in contrast to more than 300 previously (see France Diplomatie). The criteria used to establish this list are problematic insofar as only the national churches and minorities are recognised. Muslim, Buddhist and even Hindu communities are excluded.

While it marks a major break with the legislation of the Communist regime by restoring that in force until 1947, its adoption is controversial not only in Hungary (see the article by Gabor Sonkoly, Historian at the University of Budapest), but also in Europe. The Council of Europe wanted to know about the motivations of the Hungarian State : in March 2012, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) issued an opinion on this law. Conscious to respect democracy and freedom of conscience and religion, the Committee on Honouring Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) has also made a request to initiate a monitoring procedure for Hungary in respect of its Basic Law and several laws, including CCVI.

For more information, see the opinion of the Council of Europe’s Monitoring Committee.

  • July 2011 : A new law on religious freedom (Act C/2011)

Following the new constitution, Parliament passed a new law on churches that shall enter into force on January 1, 2012 replacing Act IV/1990.

An English version of the Act is available on the website of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington

  • 2005 : Equal treatment v. religious freedom

Mainstream religious denominations (the Catholic Church, the Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church and the Alliance of Jewish Communities) filed an unprecedented joint initiative with the Constitutional Court in 2004 claiming that the new law on equal treatment passed by Parliament in late 2003 was unconstitutional.
Religious groups consider that the new law endangers church autonomy, especially concerning employment, as religious affiliation could only be taken into consideration with genuine religious ministries (and state authorities determine what qualifies as such). The case is pending.

Emotions ran high when members of government sharply criticised Károli Gáspár Reformed University for expelling a homosexual student from its School of Theology. Courts meanwhile dismissed claims by a gay rights association that the University violated the equal treatment law.

  • 2005 : Funding of public service church institutions

Churches are free to perform any public activity that is not reserved to the State. Churches performing public activities (maintaining schools or engaging in social service) are granted support from a budget that is supposed to equal the support received by public institutions that serve the same purpose (Act IV/1990, section 19 (1)). The large majority of public services are provided by municipalities, which receive per capita funding for the services from the central budget. As the central funds are normally insufficient, municipalities supplement them from their own resources (for example local taxes). Churches are supposed to receive from the central budget the national average of the total local expenditure.
Taking education as the most important activity as an example, churches that maintain schools receive from the central government the same amount per student that municipalities spend on education, based on a national average. In the case of a church owned hospital the social security system provides the same fees as paid to public general hospitals.
The principle of equal funding of public activities is guaranteed by law. It was reinforced by a Constitutional Court decision stating that equal funding was required by the Constitution as a consequence of religious freedom and the principle of non-discrimination (Decision 22/1997 (IV. 25.) AB). The accord with the Holy See and agreements with other major churches also reinforced this principle. In the present social and financial circumstances only this principle allows the actual presence of church institutions in public services. As the funding is guaranteed in many ways and flows automatically, it does not infringe the independence of church maintained public institutions.
While the principle of equal funding of public service church institutions seems to be undisputed, controversies on implementation arise repeatedly. The government first tried to prevent churches from opening social care institutions without the consent of the local municipality. As this would violate a fundamental right of churches, the Constitutional Court quashed the limitation (Decision 15/2004. (V. 14.) AB). The 2005 budget introduced a new way of calculating the funding for church schools that denies some elements of public funds. The mixed commission set up to ensure the implementation of the 1997 agreement on financial issues between the Holy See and Hungary has not so far been able to resolve the dispute.

D 12 janvier 2017    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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