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Religious liberty under threat in Hungary: The Church of England Newspaper, March 31 2013, p 7. April 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper.
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The Hungarian parliament has approved a series of amendments to the country’s constitution that critics charge will restrict religious and civil liberties.

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz Party have argued the changes are necessary to complete the work of eradicating the vestiges of the Communist era.  However some of the reforms adopted last week to the January 2012 Constitution have previously been deemed unconstitutional by the country’s Constitutional Court.

One provision strips the Constitutional Court of the right to strike down laws that have already been enshrined in the constitution. Students who have received state grants to pay for their education must work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduating, or pay back the cost of their tuition to the state. Another article gives explicit preference to traditional family relationships, and says that heterosexual marriage and the parent-child relationship form the basis of the traditional family.

Reacting to the vote on Monday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the adopted amendments “raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards” and the Commission would “make a detailed assessment” and act accordingly.

The Council of Europe had urged Hungary to postpone the vote but Gergely Gulyas, the deputy leader of the Fidesz group in Parliament, told Magyar Nemzet the government saw no reason to put off the vote despite “domestic and international kerfuffle”.

“It’s natural for the governing majority to make use of the authority it received in democratic elections,” he said.

On 14 July 2011 the Hungarian parliament adopted “The Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities” Law, by a vote of 254 to 43.  The new law recognized the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, select Jewish denominations, the Hungarian Unitarians, the Baptists and the Faith Church as churches.  The Church of England, which counts St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest as part of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, along with 347 other religious groups lost their legal status as churches.

In December 2011, the Constitutional Court struck down the church law on procedural grounds, but did not review the substance of the law.  Parliament then reauthorized the law and 66 religious organizations petitioned to be added to the approved list.

On 27 February 2012 Parliament added the Church of England, the Methodist Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a number of Muslim and Buddhist groups to the approved list. The vicar of St Margaret’s, Dr. Frank Hegedűs “welcomed this clarification” that confirmed the status of the Church of England within Hungary.

“The decision follows a number of meetings and representations in recent weeks and has shown the strength of support for this English speaking ministry in the heart of this capital city,” a diocese of Gibraltar in Europe spokesman said.

The new law protects the status of the Church of England in Hungary but prevents the courts from adding to the list of approved religious groups – – reserving that privilege for Parliament. Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups have protested the discrimination enacted against non-recognized faiths urged the EU to review the matter.

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