- April 2015 : Integration versus Segregation
The Kúria (Supreme Court) of Hungary has put an end to a highly divisive case concerning the Sója Miklós Greek Catholic School of the Huszár district in Nyíregyháza. The background of the legal issue is a conflict between religious autonomy and the equal treatment policy regarding education.
In a deprived district of Nyíregyháza (a municipal city in Eastern Hungary), the Greek Catholic Church has taken over a kindergarten and a primary school which would otherwise have been closed down. The zone where the school is situated is mostly inhabited by Roma people living in poverty. In 2012 a legal action was filed with Nyíregyháza Court by an organization called Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) complaining about segregated education. The claim seemed well-grounded as the pupils came exclusively from Roma families. CFCF argued that the Greek-Catholic Church had to give up the school, that no more first graders should be accepted. As a result the institution would be closed, and the children dispersed and integrated to other primary schools of the city among non-Roma children. Whereas many parents did send their children to other schools, a number of local families insisted on the local school.
The litigation has bought up a number of essential questions. What is in the best interest of the children ? CFCF argued for integration and equal treatment. The Greek-Catholic Church underlined the power of a caring, patient, tailor-made teaching by charismatic teachers.
As for the facts : practically all children at the school are Roma. However, this is not intentional but is a simple consequence of the location of the school. Parents were not forced to send their children to the local school (in fact, the majority has sent their children to other, integrated schools). The Church has the right to provide faith-based education even if practically only adherents of one ethic group wanted to make use of this offer. It was not disputed that children coming from a poverty-stricken environment should be treated with special care, and sometimes it is extremely difficult to do so (e.g. : some have to face domestic-violence on a daily basis) ; therefore, these problems should be handled by professional pedagogy, whatever the school might be. These children need to be taught basic hygiene ; there are other related handicaps that may hinder the chance of integration in mixed schools. Fülöp Kocsis, the metropolitan of the Hungarian Greek-Catholic Church said, that the plaintiff has misunderstood the function of the school. Since the beginning of his service (2008), the bishop has cherished the dream that Roma pastoral and social integration go hand in hand. A church educational establishment is the best idea and means for this target. On the other hand, CFCF argued that when only Roma pupils study in an establishment, it is necessarily a case of segregation. Neither the free option of the parents, nor the faith based nature of the school, can be an excuse for segregation.
At first and second instance the plaintiff won the lawsuit, but the respondent appealed to the Supreme Court. Finally, the Supreme Court rejected the CFCF’s petition on 22 April 2015. The Supreme Court has found no reasons against Sója Miklós Greek Catholic Primary School, and stated that the school was functioning lawfully.
CFCF is now searching for European fora to continue its fight against the Greek Catholic School.
- January 2015 : The protection of Sunday rest extended
With the emerging market liberty after the fall of the communist regime, Sunday as an universal day of rest has almost disappeared. Since the early 1990s practically all major shops remain open on Sundays. Only a limited number of bank holidays were determined as compulsory closing dates.
From 2015 the protection of Sundays as universal days of rest is to be reinforced as most shops have to close on Sundays. Only family run businesses will be exempted, provided they are less than 200 m² large and as long as only family members, and not employees, will be working on Sundays. An exemption is also foreseen for areas frequented by tourists. The Minister competent for trade has the right to grant further exemptions. Employees in these shops will be entitled to a double salary for working on Sundays (Act CLXIV/2005 amended 2014). In the debate concerning this change, very few religious arguments were expressed. In the forefront of the discussion the employees’ rights were emphasized.
The new law is widely seen as a measure to channel trade to small shops instead of supermarkets. Religious arguments were hardly voiced. Instead of them possible consequences on trade, employment and taxes were and are widely discussed. Opposition groups often regard the measure as the endorsement of the agenda of the junior government party, the Christian Democrats who expect the strengthening of family ties by Sunday rest. Some even called for a referendum on the issue. The new legislation will enter into force on March 15, 2015. Reinforcing Sunday as a universal day of rest can be seen as yet another rejection by Hungary of an international trend of liberalization.