UPDATED: Current Hungarian Church Law Found Unconstitutional

UPDATED: Current Hungarian Church Law Found Unconstitutional

Update on legal issues around church law in Hungary

UPDATE (March 14): [From the Reformed Church in Hungary] Hungarian President János Áder announced Wednesday night [March 13] in a public television address that he will sign the fourth amendment to the Constitution, which was accepted in Parliament Monday afternoon by 265 votes to 11 with 33 abstentions.

The bill overturns earlier Constitutional Court rulings and limits the Court’s ability to challenge future Parliament decisions. It includes:

  • Regulations on political advertisements in publicly run media during election times
  • Required pledges from university students seeking state grants to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation
  • Fines or prison terms for homeless people found sleeping on the streets

With this ruling, it will also be written into the Constitution that the Parliament alone is allowed to grant religious status to a religious community; a provision the Constitutional Court previously ruled unconstitutional at the end of February.

[Click here for some background on the issue on the BBC website.  Click here for a BBC news story about the parliamentary decision.]

[The following article originally appeared on the Reformed Church in Hungary’s website.]

Today in its plenary session, the Constitutional Court declared provisions from the Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities, passed in 2011, unconstitutional and annulled the provisions with a retroactive effect. This decision comes after the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and 17 petitioner churches challenged the procedural provisions and recognition of churches. They argued that the provisions of the Law violates the neutrality of state as well as freedom of religion and causes discrimination among churches.

The Court also determined a constitutional requirement that the state provide a fair process regarding the acquisition of church status, including the right to appeal in accordance with the freedom of religion principle. According to the Court, the Law does not address the requirement of justification for the proposal of church recognition as well as for the decision of refusal. There is also no time limit for Parliament’s decision and no right to appeal for the churches. Furthermore, it determined that placing the decision-making solely on the Parliament is in direct contradiction to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Therefore, the provisions of the Law, under which the petitioner churches lost their church status, were found unconstitutional. This decision holds a retroactive effect, meaning these churches and other named churches did not lose their status due to Parliaments decision in August 2012.

However, the Court’s decision does not affect churches whose status was accepted in the Parliament’s earlier verdict. They are able to retain their legal recognition.

Click here for the response from the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary.