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The neutrality of the State

Neutrality can be seen as the most important principle governing the Hungarian state in its relationship with the religious communities as well as with other ideologies. The state should remain neutral in matters concerning ideology; there should be no official ideology, be it religious or secular. Neutrality means on the one hand that the state should not identify with any ideology (or religion), and consequently on the other hand that it must not be institutionally attached to churches or to one single church. This shows that the underlying doctrine behind the principle of separation (explicitly stated in the Constitution) is the neutrality of the state. It is to be noted that neutrality has to be distinguished from indifference, which is not meant by the Constitution – as follows from the concept of neutrality elaborated by the Constitutional Court. Neutrality is not “laicism”. The state may have an active role in providing an institutional legal framework as well as funds for the churches to ensure the free exercise of religion in practice; “from the right to freedom of religion, follows the State’s duty to ensure the possibility of free formation of personal convictions” (Decision 4/1993. II. 12. Hungarian Constitutional Court). The state should not enter into institutional entanglement with any organisation that is based on a (religious- or secular) ideology. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion are equally protected – neither case should be treated as an exception. All public institutions are bound by the principle of neutrality: the state shall not maintain non-neutral institutions (like schools, theological faculties); church institutions, however enjoy public funding.

The meaning of separation can be defined on the one hand as respecting the autonomy (or self-determination) of the churches (“the State must not interfere with the internal workings of any church” (Decision 4/1993. II. 12. Hungarian Constitutional Court), and, on the other hand, by the principle stated in the law on religious freedom: “no state pressure may be applied in the interest of enforcing the internal laws and rules of a church.” ( Act IV/1990. section 15). Religious communities should have no possibility of making use of state power. In the relation between the individual and his church, the state shall play no role.

In comparison with other European countries, the Hungarian system seems to show the greatest similarities with the Italian-Spanish pattern. The separation – especially institutional separation – between church and state in Hungary is definitely stricter than in the “coordination model” of Germany, but the Hungarian state provides favourable conditions for church activities and public funds to a much greater degree than in the case of “laïque” France. The Hungarian model that emerged in the 1990’s can be described as a benevolent separation, respecting religious freedom, the freedom of the churches, enhancing their activities, and open to cooperation for the common good – especially in the field of public services.

D 20 September 2012    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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