After a year of work to settle controversial elements of the Hungarian Church Act, the Ministry of Justice has published its modifications.
The European Court of Human Rights stated in its judgment of last year that the Church Act was unlawful and the Hungarian state should pay billions of forints in compensation to the complainants.
Under the new modifications, the Church Act:
- Would continue in failing to ensure equal rights for everybody to the freedom of conscience and religion, the neutrality of the state and the division of church and state. The modification would lead to the development of three kinds of statuses as a church, defined by different powers, while the question as to which churches the state would cooperate with in managing public service tasks - i.e., which churches would receive public support, and to what extent - would still depend on the political decision of the government.
- Would not remedy the injuries suffered by the churches deprived from their recognized legal status by the Hungarian state on account of the Church Act in force. While the currently recognized churches would be automatically categorized as highest in rank and having the most privileges, the churches deprived of their rights would only be able to obtain the status matching the degree of their acceptance and embedding.
- Would be even less compatible with Hungarian constitutional tradition. In disregarding the system established in 1990 that respects the equality of the freedom of conscience, the strict division of church and state and the neutrality of the state, the new Church Act would restore the church regulation introduced in the 19th century and maintained all through the state socialist regime.
- Would still fail to satisfy Hungarian and European human rights requirements and would not exempt the Hungarian state from its responsibility. Although the Hungarian government had officially been compelled to amend the Church Law as a consequence of the judgment delivered last year by the European Court of Human Rights condemning the current Church Act, the present draft law will not help in avoiding any further legal proceedings and more reproaches to come.
Therefore, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union calls on the government to not accept the present draft proposal and not submit it to the Parliament, but instead to respect freedom of conscience and religion, the equality of rights, the division of state and church and the neutrality of the state.
The draft proposal it finally submits to the Parliament should unconditionally guarantee the fundamental rights defined in the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
HCLU is not alone with these concerns, which is clearly shown by a very similar opinion formed by the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) on the matter.