Below you will find the recommendations the Forum for Religious Freedom of Europe (FOREF) will be submitting at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe being held in Warsaw at this very moment.

In the middle of the refugee crisis we are apt to forget about other “sins” of the Orbán government, among them the Church Law of 2011 that deprived a number of legitimate religious groups of equal treatment. That law was subsequently amended in the hope of conforming more to international standards. As you can see, however, this amended version is still unacceptable to the international community. Professor David Baer of Texas Lutheran University, an expert on Hungarian state and church relations, is representing FOREF at the Warsaw meeting. Professor Baer previously published several articles on the subject on Hungarian Spectrum.

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Hungary: Amended Church Law Remains at Variance with OSCE Standards and the European Convention on Human Rights


Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) calls upon the Government of Hungary

  • to refrain from further changes to the legal status of religious communities except to remedy the violations of the right of religious freedom arising from the deregistration of churches in 2011;
  • to extend legal privileges to churches on the basis of objective criteria alone, and not on the basis of indeterminate discretionary prerogatives claimed by the State or Parliament;
  • to treat all religious communities equally in matters pertaining to religious practice;
  • to rewrite the proposed amendments to Act CCVI of 2011 to harmonize with Helsinki standards, international human rights law, and the ruling of the ECtHR in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary.

Persistent difficulties with Hungary’s church law

In 2011 Hungary enacted a new law on the legal status of churches (Act CCVI of 2011). The law stripped approximately 200 religious communities of legal personality, and reduced the number of legally recognized churches in Hungary to 14. In February 2012, responding to international pressure, Parliament expanded the number of recognized churches to 31. In February 2013, Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled the deregistration of recognized churches had been unconstitutional. Responding to the Court’s decision, Parliament amended the constitution in March 2013. In June and September 2013, Parliament amended Act CCVI to create a two-tiered classification consisting of “religious communities” and “incorporated churches.” In September 2013, Parliament also amended the constitution explicitly to grant Parliament the authority to select religious communities for “cooperation” with the state in the service of “public interest activities.” In April 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary that Hungary had violated articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a judgment which became final in September 2014. Just this month (September 2015), in response to the ECtHR decision, the Government of Hungary (GOH) has made public proposed amendments to Act CCVI of 2011. Unfortunately, those amendments fail to address the most serious violations of the right of religious freedom identified by the Court. First, transitional provisions with the proposed amendments would perpetuate, rather than correct the earlier violations of the ECHR. Second, discretionary powers afforded the state would continue the arbitrary recognition procedure criticized by both the ECtHR and the Venice Commission.

Proposed transitional provisions codify previous discrimination

After Hungary’s Constitutional Court found the deregistration of churches unconstitutional, the GOH amended the church law to create a two-tiered classification system, offering deregistered churches a chance to apply for status as “religious associations.” Despite the second tier, the ECtHR found Hungary’s deregistration procedure to have violated the right of religious freedom. Even after registering as religious associations, deregistered churches had far fewer rights than they enjoyed prior to 2011. The currently proposed amendments would replace the two-tiered classification system with a three-tiered system. However, a three-tiered system does nothing to address the underlying violation. Indeed, if two tiers failed to correct the violations caused by deregistration, it is hard to see how three tiers will address that problem more effectively.

In fact, religious communities in the lower tiers will continue to be denied rights they held previously as churches. For example, according to information provided by the Ministry of Justice, “religious associations” (the lowest tier), unlike other churches, will not be permitted to collect the voluntary 1% church income tax. Since this church tax directly supports religious activity, prohibiting some religious communities from collecting such a tax while permitting others, constitutes unjustified discrimination. Indeed, this provision of the law was explicitly criticized by the ECtHR. According to the Court:

only incorporated churches are entitled to the one per cent of the personal income tax earmarked by believers and the corresponding State subsidy. These sums are intended to support faith-related activities. For this reason, the Court finds that such differentiation does not satisfy the requirements of State neutrality and is devoid of objective grounds for the differential treatment. (Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház v. Hungary, 112)

Given the explicit judgment of the Court, the GOH’s determination to preserve this discriminatory provision is surprising.

Additionally, transitional provisions stipulate that all “incorporated churches” (currently the highest tier) will automatically be recognized as “certified churches” (the new highest tier) once the new version of the law goes into effect. However, the majority of “incorporated churches” do not meet the criteria set down in the law for “certified churches.” “Certified churches” must either have at least 10,000 members or have received church income tax from at least 4000 people over five years. Based on the most recent census data, only 6 of the 31 “incorporated churches” have a membership of 10,000 or more. Based on publically available tax data, only 11 of the 31 incorporated churches consistently received voluntary church income tax from at least 4000 people between 2011 and 2014.

Furthermore, according to the proposed amendments, unlike “incorporated churches,” “religious associations” will have to apply with the courts for new legal status. The GOH thus proposes to implement the new amendments in a way that both discriminates between “incorporated churches” and “religious communities,” and also blatantly disregards the provisions of its own law. Since the original classification of religious groups into unequal tiers violated the right of religious freedom, perpetuating those distinctions with a new set of amendments cannot be considered a serious attempt to respond to the violations identified by the ECtHR.

Discretionary prerogatives claimed by the state allow for arbitrary discrimination

One of the most severely criticized parts of Act CCVI has been the provision according to which Parliament grants status as an “incorporated church” through a ⅔ vote. At first glance, the amendments appear to remove this provision, because registration in each tier will be determined by a court. However, the amendments also allow the state to enter into “cooperative agreements” with “certified churches” on a discretionary basis. This provision for discretionary subsidy of some, but not all religious communities amounts to a fourth category of legal recognition. The manner in which the state will exercise its “discretionary right” to enter into “cooperative agreements” is not specified in the church law. However, a reasonable interpretation of Hungary’s Basic Law suggests that this discretionary power is held by Parliament. Statements by government representatives as reported in the Hungarian press also indicate that Parliament will exercise this discretion.

OSCE standards require that the state remain neutral and impartial in its treatment of religious communities. Certainly, the state enjoys margin of appreciation in determining the legal framework for cooperation with churches; but having established that framework the state is required to treat all churches impartially within it. Any decision to enter into “cooperative agreements” with certain churches must be based on objective, relevant criteria. A procedure by which Parliament selects individual churches for “cooperation” lacks appropriate mechanisms to guarantee the decisions are based on objective, relevant criteria and in an impartial manner. Indeed, insofar as the determination to enter into a “cooperative agreement” is based on objective, relevant criteria, it is difficult to envision the manner in which such determinations are discretionary at all.

The proposed amendments to Act CCVI therefore rewrite the law without changing its essential content. Instead of repairing violations of religious freedom suffered by deregistered churches, the proposed amendments place those violations on new legal footing. Rather than correcting Parliament’s arbitrary power to bestow legal privileges on churches, the amendments relocate that arbitrary power to different parts of the law.

FOREF urges the Government of Hungary to refrain from submitting the currently proposed amendments to Parliament for a vote, to develop substantial, as opposed to cosmetic, changes to the law which are needed to address the identified violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, and to seek the assistance of participating States in harmonizing its church law with Helsinki standards, international human rights law, and the ruling of the ECtHR in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary.

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September 29, 2015 6:27 pm

” Based on publically available tax data, only 11 of the 31 incorporated churches consistently received voluntary church income tax from at least 4000 people between 2011 and 2014.”

The latest data is out. As of September 1, 2015, 13 churches received the voluntary 1% from at least 4000 people for the 2014 tax year.

Together, 1,076,501 taxpayers gave 1% of their tax to one of the 31 “accepted” churches. This is about one quarter of the tax returns.

Catholic Church: 57.62%
Calvinist Church 21.18%
Lutheran Church: 5.69%
Krishna: 3.14%
“Hit” Faith – Evangelical : 3.13%
Baptists: 2.91%
Gate of Learning – Buddhist: 0.94%
Jehovah’s Witnesses: 0.93%
Jewish denominations (3): 0.86%

September 29, 2015 6:53 pm

4,000 – 7,000

Diamond Path – Buddhist: 0.66%
Pentecostal Church: 0.61%
Transylvanian Congregation: 0.40%
Arya Mandala – Buddhist: 0.38%


Seventh day Adventist: 0.35%
Unitarian Church: 0.28%
Karma-Kadyupa: 0.28%
Salvation Army: 0.20%

The five Buddhist denominations combined make up 2.41% of the taxpayers who donated for one of the 31 churches.

Oh, yes. Coptic Church: 329 taxpayers.

September 29, 2015 7:05 pm

Coptic church (1% donor taxpayers)

tax year:
2010: 82
2011: 172
2012: 245
2013: 269
2014: 329

September 30, 2015 3:03 am

Tappanch – donations by individuals through tax (the 1% rule) are not that different from tax-deductible donations to churches in the US or other countries.
What is rather different in Hungary is the direct subsidy given by the Hungarian government to certain select denominations every year. This is given regardless of donations from the faithful. The sums distributed directly from the state are enormous.

September 30, 2015 3:10 am

As I have advocated in this place before, Hungary (and Europe) would be a healthier society were there separation of church and state. Defund the lot of them. It is simply not right that taxpayer money is being used to fund these ancient and modern superstitious cults. Not right? It is outrageous. If these so-called believers wish to support an organization that fosters superstition and hopes of heaven on high, that is fine but let them do it from their own resources – and they have plenty. The state has no business (except of course in garnering votes at election time) in getting involved in this nonsense.

Of course in writing the above I am hoping for heaven on earth…. Ain’t gonna happen.

September 30, 2015 3:26 am
bimbi – I agree. One of the subsidies paid to the Catholic Church, among others, is a sum meant as compensation for property expropriated from the church by the Hungarian state during communism. The Horn government agreed to pay this, for eternity, to the church. The bizarre thing about this payment is that plenty of other states that never experienced communism (or, in a few cases, before they experienced communism) also expropriated property from churches for the simple reason that churches had accrued such enormous landholdings over long centuries – latifundia, if you will – and this was seen as unjust. In such countries, the idea of compensating the church (for eternity!) would be regarded as ridiculous. In Hungary, the Catholic Church gets an annual payment of more than 10bn. forints in compensation for expropriated property. This is periodically adjusted for inflation. In addition to this enormous sum, the church is given state funding for educational, health, and social services (this doesn’t bother me so much – the health and social services are much needed), and for the repair and reconstruction of church buildings (this bothers me – that should be paid for by the congregation, in my view). And… Read more »
September 30, 2015 8:57 am

Bimbi, I am ready to cry with you.
All believers are of different shades of the old Don Quixote.
The ministers, rabbis are often very sweet, superbly educated people; Ivanyi, late Schweitzer…
But religion, mythology were and remain a 100% deceit.
The number of Gods is unfortunately, a solid zero.

September 30, 2015 3:17 am

Global competitiveness. Another success story of the Orban government

2010: Hungary: 52nd, Romania: 77th
2015: Hungary: 63rd, Romania: 53rd

2015: Czechia 31st, Poland 41st, Romania 53rd, Hungary 63rd, Slovakia 67th.

The Czech Republic is the best among these countries in almost all categories (except Poland’s market size is larger)

Notice the dark green pastures – they are the most attractive to the migrants/refugees.

September 30, 2015 4:30 am

re: chart


September 30, 2015 4:40 am

It will be really green in a few decades, thanks to the global warming.
If you have money to spare, this is the time to buy cheap plots on the Arctic seaside in Siberia – the future Riviera. 🙂

September 30, 2015 7:34 am

You know the FOREF critical reactions do bring in great high relief the extent to which the Hungarian state has diverged and veered arrogantly I ‘d say in the practice of democratic tradition. If a tree of liberty exists in the country it has been infected by Magyar lumberjacks consistently hacking away at the rotting wood. Unfortunately it is a very very active occupation in Hungary today. Just think that’s only one type of tree in the country. The lumberjacks look like they have plenty of wood to destroy. Hungary sure looks a home for termites with red- checked jackets.

September 30, 2015 7:40 am

Interesting story this morning on US National Public Radio on Hungarian Catholic Church and the refugee crisis

September 30, 2015 8:57 am
Again, the Hungarian Catholic Church and the traditional Christian Churches in Hungary have practically nothing to do with religion. Hungarians don’t go to church at all, religion is for old folks in rural regions (5-10% of the voters). But they have everything to do with white ‘middle class’ (by Hungarian standards) way of life threatened by gipsies, depopulation (but take over by gipsies in many smaller villages), modernism, competition, foreigners, liberalism, in other words globalized capitalism. These churches, that is these national power networks (the schools, the hospitals, the parochial media outlets etc.) they together represent an organized resistance against the anxiety of modernity and globalized capitalism. The history of the Hungarian right wing and conservatism is actually the history of anti-capitalism. There has never been a pro-capitalist Hungarian party since capitalism and modernity were always associated with jews and foreigners, in this narrative threatening an indigenous, normal, traditional way of life (let’s add poor and backward way of life, but that’s another story). Therefore we should not be surprised that the Hungarian Catholic Church doesn’t care about the homeless or the refugees. It could not care less, caring is not its job. The Catholic Church is really just a… Read more »
October 1, 2015 3:30 am
@Delbárt September 30, 2015 at 8:57 am Except for the half-century leading up to WW1 and a thin layer of Jews and ethnic Germans at the time, a visceral and mindless anti-capitalism is and has always been the most striking commonalty between the mainstream left and right in Hungarian politics, and in matter of fact right across the entire spectrum of Hungarian society. Under the all-pervasive baleful influence and express direction of the three major Christian denominations in Hungary, and above all the Catholics Plus the baleful influence and express direction of largely Christian nationalist intellectuals who crafted a fanciful and one-eyed national mythology driven by a value system based in the feudal and autocratic “virtues” of the gentry (in place of accurate historical accounting) for the delectation, motivation and anesthetizing of the Hungarian and Hungarianizing masses in the 19th and 20th centuries. A corollary to the visceral and mindless anti-capitalism that pervades the entire Hungarian society is a marked propensity to loot and steal, whether from Jews (in fascist times), the small middle class (in communist times), the state (after the regime change) or from one another (today), including the practice of unrestrained robber-capitalism, with a further corollary being… Read more »
September 30, 2015 9:48 am

Delbárt that post provided a good description of the function of Christianity within our globalized world from an extradionary pro-capitalist perspective. But living in a world where very few of us know tomorrow whether we will have a job at all or the standard of living we will be able to afford in the days to come doesn’t that function of Catholism have at least some limited validity? Is that an invalid function for contemporary Catholicism not just in Hungary, but also here in the USA? Some theologians believe that should be part of the focus of Carholic teaching. Here is one of many examples of this discussion taking place within the Catholic Church in the USA

September 30, 2015 10:42 am

To guarantee liberty there must be complete separation of church and state. Churches should not be supported by the State or have say in governance. For all the secularization and liberalization of society, religion continues to cripple both ethics and liberty. Hungary is in the dark ages and if the west is not careful we also could easily slide into incredulity. The first step would be to revoke the tax exemption and the political influence of churches and after that they could form or exist however as many or as they could. After all there are endless clubs and societies and who the hell would care if you wanted to worship the holy worm or your grandfather’s little toe.

October 1, 2015 4:41 am

September 30, 2015 at 10:42 am

The European tradition of supporting “received religions’ with fat state subsidies is to my mind dead wrong.

But so are the American and Australian traditions of tax exempting the operations of all “recognized religions”.

Why the hell should the operations of received or recognized religions be subsidized from the public purse? And if any social work they carry out is actually needed, why is that work delegated to them, rather than carried out by the state or some neutral party, given that in doing so the religious social services also engage in brainwashing their charges into whatever their peculiar belief systems might be?

And most pernicious of all is the practice of countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran or North Korea, which fuse religion and/or ideology with politics in one unholy, illiberal mess, which is always and without exception an absolute and continuous effing disaster for all concerned.

October 2, 2015 12:42 am

Mike, do churches pay taxes in Europe or not? Do they meddle in politics or not? They do in Canada and I wholly resent it. I don’t care if you are Catholic, Muslim or belong to a coven of witches. Its your business. But keep your beliefs to yourself and don’t impose its standards on me. It seems to me if the state and churches were truly separate, it wouldn’t matter what crazy thing people believed in or what they did during their private worship time. Could be good material for comedy but that’s about the extent of it.

September 30, 2015 3:18 pm

The effect of the anti-immigrant rhetoric: September vs May 2015.

Poll taken by Median, between September 11 and 15. Sample size = 1200, method = face-to-face questioning.

Orban’s popularity: 44% vs 38%
Government’s popularity: 41% vs 38%
Are things heading in the right direction in Hungary? 35% vs 31%

Are things heading in the wrong direction? 60% vs 63%

Fidesz 32% vs 28%
Jobbik 13%
LMP 2%

MSzP+DK+Egyutt+Liberal 18%

No party: 34%

September 30, 2015 4:13 pm

A very scathing comment from Austria on Orbán’s policies and intentions:
“… ein europäisches Grundprinzip nach dem anderen hinwegfegen – erst die offenen Grenzen, dann gesellschaftliche Toleranz und Meinungsfreiheit, schließlich die Menschenrechte.”

Loosely translated:
Destroy all the European principles! First the open borders, then tolerance and freedom of expression and in the end – human rights!
Orbán as the new leader of the Christian Nationalist ideology …

September 30, 2015 5:06 pm

Is it only me who sees some coincidence or irony?

News #1 today:

Two of the accused were sentenced to jail today in the Sukoro trial,
in which Mr Lauder was the target by proxy.
Orban’s friend, Ms Hando (chief of the Judiciary Authority)
moved the case to the handpicked Szolnok court.

News #2
Orban and Lauder held a cordial meeting in New York today.

September 30, 2015 5:26 pm

“Mr Orbán further told Mr Lauder at the meeting: he sincerely hopes that the Jewish community in Hungary, too, supports the economic and foreign policy which the Hungarian Government is pursuing”

In other words, Orban demands that the Jewish community support his policies.

It seems to me that Orban wants Lauder to pressure the Hungarian Jewish community, MaZsiHiSz.

The infamous Maria Schmidt does not like MaZsiHiSz either.

September 30, 2015 5:34 pm

Can be persuasive, I see, a real sweet talker, isn’t he…
Wanna bet what the outcome will be..?

October 1, 2015 3:53 am

The Jews are smart. They will get the message. Orban won again.

September 30, 2015 5:36 pm

Re: ‘Globalism and the Church’s New Challenges’

Great piece and presentation of the issues. It would appear the Catholic Church in Hungary is obviously having some difficulty in meeting those challenges due to ‘local’ considerations. The reasons given for behaving the way they do towards the refugees were very poor and unconvincing. It is ironic that an institution which considers itself a state in opposition to the secular fails inexorably to stand morally and ethically with the refugees. Instead we see it ‘alongside’ and backing up the political status quo. It’s almost as if they’ve ripped the Beatitudes out of the Christian philosophical template. There is truly an intolerance that seethes.

If Francis expects the Hungarian Church to be ‘socially’ active with the poor, the outcast, the lost, the down-trodden, the ones with perhaps ‘no hope’ it looks like he will be seeing an institution kicking and screaming against those ‘good works’. It’s bad enough to have say a blundering state but a blundering Church in gcahoots with it is a grave tragedy. Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

October 1, 2015 5:19 am

A bit OT re the Pope Francis:
Did you read that he met and encouraged in Washington (or NYC?) that woman (Davis) which would not marry same sex couples because of her “Christian beliefs”?
That same woman was not only married four times but also is a proven adulterix – so in Germany e g the Catholic church wouldn’t give her a job or throw her out of her job (it happens all the time) if she was found out …

Shows again imho how lunatic the world’s biggest paedophile organisation still is …
Some things never change – all that talk by the Pope is just that: talk!
And actions speak louder than words – which connects us again to the Hungarian “Christian government” …

September 30, 2015 5:56 pm

At least now we all can be quite sure, that Hungary and the fate of the whole Cristian Europe in capable … hmm … hands? Well, must be the hands…

Source: Origo / MTI / Fehér Ház / Lawrence Jackson

I still amazed, how President Obama can hold himself lopsided, leaning away from the camera toward his guest in the effort to compensate his stature..!
(Worth to see in big:

After a while I gave up on figuring out what the right proportions should be, and I decided it must be the barrel distortion… Right in the center of the lens!
Must be quite embarrassing to publish photos, when everyone else look normal, but the guy in the middle…
They must replace it immediately!
The objective, of course!

It’s far too objective, you see…

October 1, 2015 3:48 am

Yesterday we found a new brochure from the Hungarian government in our letter box – I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry looking at it …
A Magyar Reformok Müködnek!

These people are so full of ****!
Has anyone else seen it?

October 1, 2015 4:53 pm

You mean “full of shit?”
I just wondering, if the euphemism will help to our case, if it ever will present ‘us’ as presentables – as opposed to the ones sing the “Hussars of Fehervar” for a change..

Just asking – (as the pseudonym of a lady once stated) – without being really concerned… Or else 😉

October 1, 2015 3:39 pm

Totally OT but interesting:

The new Times worldwide ranking of universities 2015/16 is out – no Hungarian university amongst the best 500:!/page/0/length/25

And again (not totally OT):
has anyone else seen the colourful brochure sent to all (?) Hungarian households:
A Magyar Reformok Mükednek

It also mentions Orbán’s glorious fights against those dastard immigrants …

October 1, 2015 4:19 pm
re: ‘The new Times worldwide ranking of universities 2015/16 is out – no Hungarian university amongst the best 500’ Just a few observations from my perch. Many of those universities are here in the US. I graduated from one which gave me a ‘golden’ education (didn’t pay a nickel back when) but it is not here. But it doesn’t matter my ‘ROI’ (educational return on investment) was incredible. Jst unbelievable. I’d like to think that immigration and the US stance on that had a pwerful hand in all that. The construction of top educational universities indicates a conscious and great desire to create environments that order and propel thinking and analysis in the technological, cultural and scientific spheres of inquiry. I believe it is immigration that eventually brings with it future inquiring minds after leaving the ‘old’ country and entering the new. There is a power of education that is compelling in societies that engage their immigrants and offer them ‘advancement’ to develop their individual and group potential. And that is why I find VO’s stand on immigration deeply provincial and closed-minded. If Magyars want to ‘go it alone’, it is the most ridiculous rationalization made of a country and… Read more »