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Hungary’s “discriminatory” new religion law criticised by Euro body

Country/Region: Hungary, Europe

Legislative reforms in Hungary that restrict religious freedom have been deemed “excessive” and “discriminatory” by the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional affairs.

Following widespread opposition to the country’s new constitution and associated laws, the Venice Commission was asked to examine the code, which came into effect on 1 January, to assess whether it complied with Hungary’s obligations under international human rights law.

Council_of_Europe_4X3.jpg
The Palace of Europe in Strasbourg is the seat of the Council of Europe
CC BY 3.0 / Council of Europe

Barnabas Aid was among those to raise concerns about restrictions to certain rights and freedoms, particularly for religious groups. A new law on religion granted state recognition to 14 religious groups and decertified the rest, meaning that over 300, including a number of major Protestant denominations and many small Catholic orders, lost their official status.

In its assessment published on 19 March, the Venice Commission confirmed our fears, identifying a number of sections of the act that fail to comply with internationally-recognised minimum standards, including aspects of religious freedom, freedom of association, access to effective remedies, and non-discrimination amongst religious beliefs and denominations.

It said that while the act as a whole constitutes a liberal and generous framework for the freedom of religion, some important issues "remain problematic and fall short of international standards”:

The Act sets a range of requirements that are excessive and based on arbitrary criteria with regard to the recognition of a church.

The Act has led to a deregistration process of hundreds of previously lawfully recognised churches that can hardly be considered in line with international standards ... The act induces, to some extent, an unequal and even discriminatory treatment of religious beliefs and communities, depending on whether they are recognised or not.

The Hungarian government has argued that one of the main justifications for the law is to prevent certain organisations that are masquerading as bone fide religious groups, while operating for illicit and harmful purposes or personal gain, from receiving public funding. The Venice Commission accepted that this was a “legitimate concern”.

In response to the Commission’s report, the Hungarian government has said that it intends to introduce amendments, but the details of these have not yet been made public.  

Other concerns about the constitution, chiefly restrictions on media freedom and the independence of the judiciary and central bank, have also been criticised by the EU and Council of Europe. The European Commission started legal action, known as “infringement proceedings”, against Hungary on 17 January. It is now considering the country’s response.    

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  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

  • On this Good Friday, give thanks to God for the death of Christ and for His gift of eternal life. Praise Him too for the example of those Christians who have persevered in their faith at the risk of their lives and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Pray that their martyrdom will inspire their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ to endure whatever hardships befall them and will convince their persecutors of the truth and power of the Gospel. Pray too that their bereaved families and churches will not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Apr 2014 00:00

  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

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