Your Faith, Your Concern: HCLU Launches Campaign for the Proper Amendment to Hungary's Church Act

The planned amendment of the law does not ensure remedies to human rights violations identified by the Hungarian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Your Faith, Your Concern: HCLU Launches Campaign for the Proper Amendment to Hungary's Church Act

Petition for the proper amendment of Act CCVI of 2011 on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and the Legal Status of Churches, Denominations and Religious Communities

15 March 2016

Considering that

  • we the Hungarian people demand civil and religious equality before the law since 1848 – see the fourth point of the 12 points of the Hungarian revolutionaries of 1848 – but now we are further from that than we were in the time of the transition in 1989;
  • the Church Act, effective since 2012, grants a wide range of privileges and benefits for the churches patronized by the government, while deprived hundreds of existing and operational churches of their legal status;
  • the Church Act in force, as defined by the European Court of Human Rights in its judgment of 2014, does not comply with the requirement of ideological neutrality of the state and that of the religious equality before the law, and its elements, taken in isolation and together, do not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, violate freedom of association read in the light of freedom of conscience and religion, and these findings constitute the state’s obligation to pay compensation;
  • the amendment proposal prepared by the government would not have restored the legal status of churches that suffered injury, or remedied the inequalities between recognized churches and religious communities; to the contrary, it would have aggravated inequalities by determining three distinct statuses as a church, and would have retained the arbitrary commitment of the state towards certain favored churches; and, finally, that
  • the Parliament voted down this amendment proposal in December 2015,

and also considering that we, the undersigned, call on the Hungarian government and pro-government MPs to not give up the demands of the 12 points of the Hungarian revolutionaries of 1848 and to submit an amendment proposal to the Parliament that:

  • ensures full and equal respect for the freedom of conscience and religion of every person, and for the self-definition of conscience-based communities organized by citizens;
  • ensures the equality of the status of religious communities and their equality before the law, without providing any privileges to any churches over others or vis-a-vis civil organizations engaged in similar activities, not only with regard to the benefits for the purposes of faith-related activities but also with regard to the possibilities for cooperation in public education and in political decision-making processes, to the taxation, and to the support of charitable activities exercised by them;
  • ensures the ideological neutrality of the state, and the strict separation between the churches and the state,
  • provides legal, moral and financial remedies to injuries suffered by churches that, under the Church Act, were deprived from their recognized and lawful legal status by the state, and prevent the central budget from the risk of further degrading rulings and obligations to pay compensation;
  • complies with the constitutional tradition of Hungary that is based on the expansion of equal rights and does not step back to a regulation of churches preceding the Revolution of 1848 or even the transition in 1989;
  • complies with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and satisfies the requirements set by the European Court of Human Rights.

Signatories: Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Italian Coalition for Civil Rights and Freedoms, Polish Helsinki Commission for Human Rights, Civil Rights Defenders

Many churches in Hungary were arbitrarily deprived of their legal status under the country’s Church Act of 2012. Nine of these churches brought a freedom of religion complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.
The court ruled in their favor in April 2014 and confirmed this ruling in September 2014, when it rejected the government’s appeal.
The government then had to change the act to make it conform to national and European laws, but the amendment proposed by the Orbán government does not achieve this.

In relation to the Hungarian Church Act, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has launched a website with a petition intended as a warning: the planned amendment of the law fails to fix the human rights violations that were identified by both the Hungarian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

In the organization's assessment, the government's proposed amendment to the act still violates domestic and EU law in several ways:

  • it retains the arbitrary definition of religion and religious activity;
  • it discriminates between churches in terms of legal status in an unjustified manner;
  • it ensures unduly extended privileges to some churches, not only vis-a-vis non-religious communities but also in comparison with other churches, in the area of public support of religious life and financing of activities for the public good;
  • it fails to provide adequate legal remedies to churches that, when the legislation comes into force, would be deprived from their legal status as a church;
  • we, the Hungarian people, demand civil and religious equality before the law since 1848 – see the fourth point of the 12 points of the Hungarian revolutionaries of 1848 – but now we are further from that than we were in the time of the transition in 1989;
  • the Church Act, effective since 2012, grants a wide range of privileges and benefits for the churches patronized by the government, while deprived hundreds of existing and operational churches of their legal status;
  • the Church Act in force, as defined by the European Court of Human Rights in its judgment of 2014, does not comply with the requirement of ideological neutrality of the state and that of the religious equality before the law, and its elements, taken in isolation and together, do not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, violate freedom of association read in the light of freedom of conscience and religion, and these findings constitute the state’s obligation to pay compensation;
  • the amendment proposal prepared by the government would not have restored the legal status of churches that suffered injury, or remedied the inequalities between recognized churches and religious communities; to the contrary, it would have aggravated inequalities by determining three distinct statuses as a church, and would have retained the arbitrary commitment of the state towards certain favored churches;
  • the Parliament voted down this amendment proposal in December 2015.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union insists on the necessity of a law that is founded, to the fullest extent possible, on the freedom of conscience, self-definition of communities, legal equality of churches, neutrality of the state, separation of state and church, and sector-neutral financing.

These principles should be implemented in accordance with the basic principles of a modern constitutional democracy. The aim of our campaign is to raise the attention of the national and international public to these issues.

The central element of our campaign is a petition, through which we want to raise the largest possible support for our campaign.