eurel     Sociological and legal data on religions in Europe and beyond
You are here : Home » Hungary » Current issues and debates » Archives

Archives

2019

February 2019: Change in the legal status of religious denominations
Instead of the two existing legal categories (religious association – recognized church), due to the amendment of the 2011 (...)

  • February 2019: Change in the legal status of religious denominations

Instead of the two existing legal categories (religious association – recognized church), due to the amendment of the 2011 Church Act of April 2019, there will be four categories provided for religious communities in Hungary.

The base level entity will remain the religious association (vallási egyesület), a legal person enjoying full autonomy. A novelty of the amendment is that religious associations will also have the right to receive tax assignments from income tax payers. This way, they will enjoy a kind of public subsidy beyond tax exemption. The law also provides for the possibility of an agreement between the State and a religious association for further subsidies and the support of activities intended for public benefit (like education, health care etc.).

A religious association can be upgraded into a registered church (nyilvátartásba vett egyház) after three years, if during the three preceding years at least 1,000 taxpayers in average have assigned 1% of their income tax to the association, and they have been functioning as a religious association for at least five years in Hungary or a hundred years abroad. Smaller religious associations can become registered churches if they declare having no intention to receive extra public funding beyond the tax assignment system. For further subsidies, the State can also establish a contractual relation with registered churches.

A slightly higher status would be that of the incorporated churches (bejegyzett egyház). A religious association can become an incorporated church if during the previous five years, in average at least 4,000 taxpayers have assigned 1% of their income tax to the association, and they have been functioning as a religious association for at least 20 years in Hungary or 100 years abroad or have been a registered church for at least 15 years. Religious associations with at least 10,000 registered members can also become incorporated churches after 20 years if they declare that they will not run for further public subsidies. Beyond the possibility of agreements between an incorporated church and the State for activities for public benefit, incorporated churches also take part in the tax assignment system and receive an additional subsidy that supplements the tax assignments, distributing the relevant share of the tax not covered by assignments (1% of the income tax is distributed between churches – the relevant share of those who do not make use of their right to assign 1% of their tax is distributed according to the proportion established by those who did assign this 1% of their tax).

Religious associations, registered and incorporated churches are registered at the Budapest Metropolitan Court.

The highest status provided for religious entities remains that of recognized churches (bevett egyház). When the State enters into a comprehensive cooperation agreement with an incorporated church, this grants the church recognition. Such agreements are promulgated by special acts of Parliament. Recognized churches enjoy a wide range of special rights and public support, including the public funding of their institutions of public benefit (like schools, hospitals, etc.).

Registered, incorporated and recognized churches, as well as their internal entities, are ecclesiastical legal persons. All ecclesiastical legal persons have the right to provide religious education in public schools and to receive public funding for such education.

Opening the tax assignment system to non-recognized churches is the consequence of a Constitutional Court decision (17/2017. [VII. 18.] AB) that stated that, whereas distinctions between various types of religious communities can be legitimate under the Constitution, there can be no difference between private individuals. Institutional subsidies may be different (for example the public support for the reconstruction of architectural heritage) but at the level of the individual believer or taxpayer, such differences would be discriminative.

The legislator has established a highly complex system for providing an adequate status for various communities. The amendment granted some additional rights to all communities (e.g. the tax assignment system). Interim steps between religious associations and recognized churches could be appealing for some communities (providing additional funding, religious education at public schools, and eventually a higher social prestige). Whereas religious associations have a right to be upgraded and registered as incorporated church if they meet the criteria, the decision to become a recognized church remains a discretionary decision of the Parliament: both the State and the church have to be willing to cooperate for the public good.

D 26 February 2019    ABalázs Schanda

2015

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 (...)

  • 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.

D 13 May 2015    ABalázs Schanda AFlóra Seszták

2014

The ECHR and the Hungarian Christian Mennonite Church
Judicial activism undermining the European human rights system or the victory of religious freedom? Some observations on the Case of Magyar (...)

  • The ECHR and the Hungarian Christian Mennonite Church

Judicial activism undermining the European human rights system or the victory of religious freedom? Some observations on the Case of Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary

In this case, the majority came to the conclusion that Hungary violated Article 11 of the Convention read in the light of Article 9. Other issues – like the discrimination between various religious communities – were not examined in this procedure. The Court has left the Government and the applicants six months to reach an agreement on a just satisfaction. However, Robert Spagno (judge of the European Court of Human Rights) closes his dissenting opinion with a warning: he underlines that unrestrained expansion of the substantive reach of the Convention runs the risk of undermining the system of European supervision of human rights.

1. The subject matter of the case
The new Hungarian regulation of the status of religious communities (see Legal Status of Religion > General overview > A new Fundamental Law) has brought a series of changes in the last three years. The first new law (Act C/2011) was abolished by the Constitutional Court for formal reasons (Decision 164/2011 (XII. 20) AB), whereas the second new law (Act CCVI/2011) entered into force on January 1, 2012. The Constitutional Court however abolished several provisions of this law a few months later (Decision 6/2013 (III. 1.) AB). The Parliament has undertaken a set of amendments to correcting failures of the law (Act CXXXIII/2013), and has even amended the Constitution itself to prevent further discussion on the fundamental elements of the new religion law (fourth amendment (March 25, 2013, fifth amendment September 26, 2013).
Applicants complained for the loss of their status of registered churches since January 1, 2012. As from that date they merely qualify as religious associations, and they are not entitled to any budget subsidies (§22 of the decision). They argued that the status of a “church” was the only one adequate for the special needs of religious communities. They also declared that the new requirements of the recognition procedure were neither objective nor reasonable, and that the competence of the Parliament has turned the recognition procedure into a political one. They are claiming that the state has thus lost its neutrality and impartiality in the recognition issues.
The rapidly changing Hungarian law had caused difficulties to the Court. A number of important rights are now open to all religious communities, but the Court still regards them as rights reserved to recognized churches. Examples are the right to maintain cemeteries, to produce religious printed material, and to receive donations or even budget subsidies (§25). These rights belong to a long list of rights that are open to all communities within the new two-tier system. Whereas free exercise of religion and autonomy is ensured to all, some rights are still reserved to recognized churches. One of these is the right to offer religious education in public schools (practically only the two or three largest denominations have a realistic possibility to make use of this right). Another significant difference is that taxpayers may assign 1% of their income tax to a church of their choice, whereas religious associations are excluded from this possibility. Additionally, public service activities (to run schools or social institutions) of recognized churches enjoy public funding equal to that of state run institutions, whereas other service providers only receive a partial funding and need to enter into a contractual scheme with the government to receive additional funds.

2. Reasoning
The Court considered the de-registration (re-qualification) of the applicants as an interference with their rights enshrined under Article 9 and 11 (§83). The measure was undoubtedly prescribed by law and the Court also accepted that the reason of the measure was to protect the public order – and uppermost to eliminate entities claiming to be of religious nature but in fact abusing the system for financial benefits (86). Under the 1990 law, 406 “churches” were registered and the state was unable to filter out “business churches” that were only set up to obtain funds but did not perform genuine religious activities. The dispute concentrated on whether the measures introduced were proportionate (necessary in a democratic society).
The Court regarded the case of the Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia to be relevant in the given case (§44), taking into consideration that in Hungary, previously registered communities were neither banned nor deprived from legal personality, but that their status was re-qualified. As a consequence of the re-qualification, the applicants have lost certain privileges (§55). Moreso, beyond financial benefits, the distinctions in the legal status may lead to social prejudices (§92). The principle of neutrality and impartiality should be observed in religious issues. The conclusion of the Court is as follows: “The Court concludes that, in removing the applicants’ church status altogether rather than applying less stringent measures, in establishing a politically tainted re-registration procedure, whose justification is open to doubt as such, and finally, in treating the applicants differently from the incorporated churches not only in the possibilities of cooperation but also in securing benefits for the purposes of faith-related activities, the authorities neglected their duty of neutrality vis-à-vis the applicant communities. These elements, jointly and severally, enable the Court to find that the impugned measure cannot be said to correspond to a “pressing social need” (§115).

3. Misunderstandings and possibilities
The wording of the judgment reflects a misunderstanding in the assessment of the Court. The Court rightly refers to previously registered churches (§§6, 17, 22, 62, 69, 81) that gained a status under the 1990 law. The 2011 law introduced a two-tier system differentiating between recognized churches and religious associations. Recognition is done by the Parliament. 31 communities have been recognized so far. Registration under the 1990 law and recognition under the 2011 law may sound similar, but are of a completely different nature. Contrary to the assessment of the Court, “previously recognized churches” (§96) were not deregistered, since no religious community was recognized previously. In fact, all previously registered religious communities lost their status. Some of them were recognized under the new system while others were re-qualified as religious associations.
In a remarkable paragraph, the Court suggests that two-tier systems and state-church systems are only compatible with the Convention if they existed before the ratification of the Convention (§100). In fact, the Convention provides for religious freedom, but not for a specific form of church-state relations.
Strangely, the Court has neither pointed out a specific measure that has led to the violation, nor judged the system adopted by Hungary as unacceptable. The Court regarded the state measures “jointly and severally” sufficient to judge that the impugned measures do not correspond to a pressing social need (§115). Consequently, it is difficult determine what kind of legislative changes are needed, beyond a financial settlement with the applicants. As rights relevant to the free exercise of religion are equally ensured to recognized churches and religious associations, remaining differences should be re-assessed. One of them could be to extend the tax-assignment system to religious associations.

Balázs Schanda

  • The passage of schools under the administrative authority of Churches

D 10 December 2014    ABalázs Schanda ARozalia Horvath

2013

February 2013: Partial annulment of the controversial law on religions
In late February 2013, the Constitutional Court pronounced the partial annulment of the 2011 CCVI Law (see Current Debates (...)

  • February 2013: Partial annulment of the controversial law on religions

In late February 2013, the Constitutional Court pronounced the partial annulment of the 2011 CCVI Law (see Current Debates - Autumn 2011) on freedom of conscience and the legal status of churches. The Court declared unconstitutional two aspects of this law: the lack of clear legal criteria for obtaining recognition of the status of “recognised religion” through Parliament and the impossibility of appealing the decision.

This organic law establishes the list of churches, communities and religious movements officially recognised by the Hungarian State. The list mentions 32 recognised religious communities, in contrast to more than 300 previously (see France Diplomatie). The criteria used to establish this list are problematic insofar as only the national churches and minorities are recognised. Muslim, Buddhist and even Hindu communities are excluded.

While it marks a major break with the legislation of the Communist regime by restoring that in force until 1947, its adoption is controversial not only in Hungary (see the article by Gabor Sonkoly, Historian at the University of Budapest), but also in Europe. The Council of Europe wanted to know about the motivations of the Hungarian State: in March 2012, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) issued an opinion on this law. Conscious to respect democracy and freedom of conscience and religion, the Committee on Honouring Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) has also made a request to initiate a [monitoring procedure for Hungary in respect of its Basic Law and several laws, including CCVI.

D 5 September 2013   

2011

A new law on religious freedom (Act C/2011)
Following the new constitution, Parliament passed a new law on churches that shall enter into force on January 1, 2012 replacing Act IV/1990.
An (...)

  • A new law on religious freedom (Act C/2011)

Following the new constitution, Parliament passed a new law on churches that shall enter into force on January 1, 2012 replacing Act IV/1990.

An English version of the Act is available on the website of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington

  • A new Constitution

With January 1, 2012 a new constitution – the Fundamental Law – shall replace the present constitution in Hungary.

See the article under the heading "Legal status of religions".

D 28 December 2011   

2007

"Expert commission" on 1997 Agreement with the Holy See
An agreement on financial issues was concluded in 1997 between the social-liberal coalition and the Holy See. As certain elements of the (...)

  • "Expert commission" on 1997 Agreement with the Holy See

An agreement on financial issues was concluded in 1997 between the social-liberal coalition and the Holy See. As certain elements of the Agreement have been criticized from liberalistic aspects on the one hand, and as the implementation of the Agreement has repeatedly become disputed on the other, the Prime Minister of the present social-liberal government initiated an "expert commission" to review its destiny.
The commission is composed of scientists having not previously dealt with religious affairs, and of lay Catholics generally qualified as liberals. Surprisingly the report presented by the commission in September 2006 was rather favorable to the Agreement: it praised it as being a significant contribution to legal certainty and stability, and as a model for agreements concluded by other denominations. The commission asked the mixed commission, composed of representatives of the government and of the Holy See, to become active in order to review disputed issues.
Following this report, the mixed commission has met again in January 2007 and decision was made to solve a set of disputed issues. The major controversial issue between church and state is probably the funding of church-run schools. Reaching a consensus concerning the method of calculating state funding to church schools is a real necessity.

D 14 September 2007    ABalázs Schanda

2006

April 2006: Public funding of church schools
As a consequence of the parliamentary elections of April 2006, the discussion on the agreement on financial issues with the Holy See, signed in 1997 (...)

  • April 2006: Public funding of church schools

As a consequence of the parliamentary elections of April 2006, the discussion on the agreement on financial issues with the Holy See, signed in 1997 by the social-liberal government (the same coalition actually in power) was re-opened. Some liberal forces claim the modification or the annulment of the agreement, while the Catholic Church repeatedly stated that the State did not fulfill the obligations arising from the Agreement. Whereas on the one hand a mixed commission was set up to overview the implementation of the Agreement, the Government launched a research committee to provide sociological data on the reception of the Agreement. A report should be presented in September 2006.

After the parliamentary elections of April 2006, a new government structure has been set up. The liaison office of the government to religious communities has been transferred from the Prime Ministers’ Office to the Ministry of Education and Culture. The new head of the secretariat is a Lutheran pastor and assistant professor of a Lutheran University of Theology, András Csepregi.

One of the delicate issues that concerns also the 1997 Agreement with the Holy See is the funding of church run schools. Equal funding for public and church schools (in order to ensure free choice and to avoid double taxation) is guaranteed by law since 1990. Modalities of the funding are partly laid down in the 1997 Agreement. From 2005 on the annual budget is providing more and more titles of funding that exclude church-run institutions. Churches consider that the new calculation of subsidies to church-run schools are discriminative (unconstitutional) and violate the agreements concluded.

  • Winter 2006: ’Lustration’ again

Handling the archives of the former communist secret service seems to be a never ending story. A historian, Ungváry Krisztián published some results of his research, identifying the later primate of Hungary, Cardinal László Paskai as a collaborator of the services. Allegedly he filed reports as a professor of the Theological Academy in Budapest in the 1960ies and 1970ies, still before he became a bishop. Ungváry acknowledges, that his reports were not compromising, all were well intentioned, could not harm anyone. In the public discussion on the recent history it is still debated if agents are to be regarded as perpetrators, or rather as victims. The Bishops’ Conference launched a foundation to study the history of the Catholic Church during the Communist regime.

D 8 September 2006    ABalázs Schanda

2005

"Lustration"
Publicly revealing who collaborated with the communist secret service – a process known as átvilágítás, ‘lustration’ – has been the subject of repeated debate since the fall of communism (...)

  • "Lustration"

Publicly revealing who collaborated with the communist secret service – a process known as átvilágítás, ‘lustration’ – has been the subject of repeated debate since the fall of communism (1990).
The church has not been exempt. The law on the lustration of public figures allowed church leaders to obtain information on their subordinates, for example whether they had collaborated with the internal secret service during communism (Act XXIII/1994. § 4). Clergy would have become involuntarily subject to the procedure, so the Constitutional Court abolished the provision in late 1994 (Decision 60/1994. (XII. 24.) AB). An amendment to the law in 2000 made it possible for church personnel (clergy and other staff) to seek a certificate on a voluntary basis from the lustration board to establish their non-involvement (Act XXIII/1994. § 18 (4) inserted by Act XCIII/2000. § (5)). Some Protestant church leaders (and all the pastors of the Unitarian Church) subjected themselves to the lustration, but the Catholic Church and most Protestant Churches showed little interest in such state assistance for the internal renewal of their communities, which had been victimized under communist rule. The law expired at the end of 2005, and public interest in the matter is declining, but the future handling of the archives remains a delicate issue and a subject of discussion.
Parliament passed an amendment in May 2005 that foresaw publishing almost all entries of the archives of the internal secret service (the agency that spied on citizens, including church activities). Following preliminary checks, the amendment was quashed by the Constitutional Court because the accuracy of the entries could not be ensured and the law provided no remedy for those accused of collaboration (Decision 37/2005. (X. 4.) AB). In certain cases the only remaining ‘evidence’ is a form containing personal data, but it remains unclear whether these are data on someone who was observed or someone who delivered reports on others. Establishing a whole picture of the regime remains extremely difficult.

  • Equal treatment v. religious freedom

Mainstream religious denominations (the Catholic Church, the Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church and the Alliance of Jewish Communities) filed an unprecedented joint initiative with the Constitutional Court in 2004 claiming that the new law on equal treatment passed by Parliament in late 2003 was unconstitutional.
Religious groups consider that the new law endangers church autonomy, especially concerning employment, as religious affiliation could only be taken into consideration with genuine religious ministries (and state authorities determine what qualifies as such). The case is pending.

Emotions ran high when members of government sharply criticised Károli Gáspár Reformed University for expelling a homosexual student from its School of Theology. Courts meanwhile dismissed claims by a gay rights association that the University violated the equal treatment law.

  • Funding of public service church institutions

Churches are free to perform any public activity that is not reserved to the State. Churches performing public activities (maintaining schools or engaging in social service) are granted support from a budget that is supposed to equal the support received by public institutions that serve the same purpose (Act IV/1990, section 19 (1)). The large majority of public services are provided by municipalities, which receive per capita funding for the services from the central budget. As the central funds are normally insufficient, municipalities supplement them from their own resources (for example local taxes). Churches are supposed to receive from the central budget the national average of the total local expenditure.
Taking education as the most important activity as an example, churches that maintain schools receive from the central government the same amount per student that municipalities spend on education, based on a national average. In the case of a church owned hospital the social security system provides the same fees as paid to public general hospitals.
The principle of equal funding of public activities is guaranteed by law. It was reinforced by a Constitutional Court decision stating that equal funding was required by the Constitution as a consequence of religious freedom and the principle of non-discrimination (Decision 22/1997 (IV. 25.) AB). The accord with the Holy See and agreements with other major churches also reinforced this principle. In the present social and financial circumstances only this principle allows the actual presence of church institutions in public services. As the funding is guaranteed in many ways and flows automatically, it does not infringe the independence of church maintained public institutions.
While the principle of equal funding of public service church institutions seems to be undisputed, controversies on implementation arise repeatedly. The government first tried to prevent churches from opening social care institutions without the consent of the local municipality. As this would violate a fundamental right of churches, the Constitutional Court quashed the limitation (Decision 15/2004. (V. 14.) AB). The 2005 budget introduced a new way of calculating the funding for church schools that denies some elements of public funds. The mixed commission set up to ensure the implementation of the 1997 agreement on financial issues between the Holy See and Hungary has not so far been able to resolve the dispute.

  • Political controversies

Government officials – including Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány at his audience with Pope John Paul II in December 2004 – have repeatedly complained that churches are interfering in politics by issuing moral statements in current public debates (especially in advocating making citizenship available for ethnic Hungarians abroad in a referendum on 5 December 2004). It must be remembered that during the communist period only religious and not public activities of churches were tolerated. As 2006 will be an election year, the relation between churches and politics may become a subject of debate again.

D 23 September 2005    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

Follow us:
© 2002-2020 eurel - Contact