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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.

Who determines who is a Jew?: Get Religion, August 17, 2012 August 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
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In his 2008 Atlantic review of  Gregor von Rezzori’s Memoirs of an Anti-Semite Christopher Hitchens retells a “sour old joke” from the Nazi era.

Two elderly Jews [are] sitting in a Berlin park, with one of them reading a Yiddish paper and the other one scanning the pages of Der Stürmer. The latter Jew is laughing. This proves too much for the former Jew, who says: “It’s not enough you read that Nazi rag, but you find it funny?”

“Look,” replies the other. “If I read your paper, what do I see? Jews deported, Jews assaulted, Jews insulted, Jewish property confiscated. But I read Der Stürmer, and there’s finally some good news. It seems that we Jews own and control the whole world!”

Change the setting, transform Der Stürmer to any one of a number of Arab-language newspapers or television broadcasts, move the date to 2012 and the same joke would be fresh and relevant today. While the Muslim world today may be the most vocal source of Jew hatred, European anti-Semitism is alive and well too. And it takes a surprising number of forms: from the Church of England to 68′ers, in the salons of the chattering classes and amongst pro-Palestinian activists. Anti-Semites can be found from left and right.

Anti-Semites have also risen to prominence in some political parties including Hungary’s Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom). Jobbik leaders have accused Jews of buying up the country’s lands, taking over the banks and newspapers, and exercising a fell hand over the affairs of state.Into this mix comes an Associated Press story about one of Jobbik’s leaders, Csanad Szegedi. The lede begins:

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — As a rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.

Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.

Following weeks of Internet rumours, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn’t practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labour camps.

Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Szegedi is reported as being shocked by these revelations. However, his fierce xenophobic politics and his Presbyterian faith appear not to be enough to prevent his Jobbik allies from cutting him dead. A Jew is a Jew by blood — not by faith or self-identification it appears for the fascists in Hungary, who seem perturbed at having a Jew in their midst.

The odious Mr. Szeged has sought the counsel of Rabbi Slomo Koves of Hungary’s Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community to help him through this trauma of learning he is Jewish.

“As a rabbi … it is my duty to receive every person who is in a situation of crisis and especially a Jew who has just now faced his heritage,” Koves said.

…”Csanad Szegedi is in the middle of a difficult process of reparation, self-knowledge, re-evaluation and learning, which according to our hopes and interests, should conclude in a positive manner,” Koves said. “Whether this will occur or not is first and foremost up to him.”

The Szegedi controversy reminds me of a passage from Alan Furst’s 2001 book  Kingdom of Shadows: “Morath didn’t mention Bethlen’s well-known definition of the anti-Semite as ‘one who detests the Jews more than necessary’.”

Though this wonderful novel may be the non-specialist’s introduction to the aphorism, it is none the less a true statement made by Hungary’s pre-war Prime Minister Count István Bethlen.

The article goes into further detail as to why Szegedi is considered to be a Jew.

Judaism is traced from mother to child, meaning that under Jewish law Szegedi is Jewish. Szegedi said he defines himself as someone with “ancestry of Jewish origin — because I declare myself 100 per cent Hungarian.”

Under the traditional definition of “who is a Jew”, this definition is correct and is the criteria used by Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. Yet Reform Judaism in 1983 recognized patrilineal Jews—those born of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother—as full Jews, provided they followed the Jewish faith.

A further twist in this debate is Israel. Reform Judaism’s position is not accepted by the Israeli rabbinate, which takes matrilinealism as the criterion for Jewish descent. Most Conservative rabbis and almost all Orthodox rabbis would also decline to recognize conversions performed by Reform rabbis for converts to Judaism on halachic grounds.

How should journalists decide who is a Jew? In this story the conservative/orthodox matrilineal definition is used. This may be appropriate as the Jewish community in Hungary follows this line. Yet the AP’s readers are found in the Angl0sphere, where the majority of Jews follow the Reform view of Jewish identity. Should it not interpret events according to the lights of its readers?

Nazi race ideology would classify Szegedi as a mischling — a half Jew. A German mischling was subject to severe restrictions under the Nazi race laws, but mischlinge in the Eastern territories occupied by the Nazis were classified as full Jews and exterminated. Szegedi appears not to want to accept his Jewish ancestry — and protests that he is a Christian and 100 per cent Hungarian.

Distasteful as this topic may be, has Szegedi the right to construct himself? Is he a Jew? Should he be a Jew? Who gets to say?

What say you GetReligion readers? Who has the right to decide — and how should the press approach such situations?

First printed at Get Religion.

Hungary bans Anglicans: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 12, 2011 p 6. August 12, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Hungary has introduced a new law governing the registration of religious groups that critics charge discriminates against minority faiths, and strips St Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest of its status as a religious organisation.

On 14 July 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 in favour to 43 opposed.

Introduced on 10 June in Parliament, the proposed legislation would have created three tiers of religious groups, with differing authorities to conduct worship and engage in charitable activities under Hungarian law. Human Rights activists, NGOs and a number of religious leaders objected, arguing, in the words of the Washington think-tank, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, the bill gave Hungary “a tiered system offering an inferior religious status to minority faiths that violates the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from religious discrimination.”

On 12 July the governing Fidesz party with their coalition allies the Christian Democrats amended the bill, eliminating the tier system and recognising 14 religious organisations as Churches. Hungary’s 348 other faiths and denominations were stripped of their legal status as religious organisations and lost their tax exempt status and entitlements to state subsidies.

The 14 denominations that were allowed to retain their registration were 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.

Among those losing recognition were Hungary’s Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventist and reform Jewish congregations, the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu groups.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy condemned the new law saying it “creates the most burdensome registration system in the entire OSCE region while codifying systematic discrimination of religious minorities. The Religion Law is completely inconsistent with fundamental human rights as it contravenes the principles of equality and non-discrimination.”

A coalition of human rights and democracy activists that opposed the communist regime submitted an open letter to the European Union asking it to intervene. “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 8 August letter stated.

“In the 1970s, under the Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, all we could do in similar situations was to hold vigils at worship sites that had been shut or demolished.

We fought for a Europe that is united under human rights. Have our hopes been in vain,” they stated, urging the EU to “start an official inquiry into this violation of the rights that are possessed by all Europeans.”