Ganesh Chaturthi – birthday of Hindu Lord Ganesha

31 08 2011

One of the biggest religious holidays in Hinduism, the great Ganesha festival, also known as ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ or ‘Vinayak Chaturthi’, is celebrated by Hindus as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is observed during the Hindu month of Bhadra (mid-August – mid-September). The grandest and most elaborate Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated in the western India state of Maharashtra, lasts for 10 days.

Elephant-head deity called Ganesha, also known as Ganapaty, is one of the best known and most worshiped deities in Hinduism. He is son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the Divine Mother. Although generally known as Lord of beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, he is also worshiped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha is usually shown having only one tusk, as the legend said he used his tusk to write famous Indian epic Mahbaharata.

May the blessings of Sri Ganesha be upon you all! May He remove all the obstacles that stand in your spiritual path! May He bestow on you all material prosperity as well as liberation!

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish you very happy Ganesh Chaturthi.

Jura Nanuk,
President of the Committee for Inter-Religious Cooperation

Eid ul-Fitr: Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting

30 08 2011

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex with their partners during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. During fasting, intercourse is prohibited as well as eating and drinking, and resistance of all temptations is encouraged. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.

Eid ul-Fitr, often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Common greetings during this holiday are the Arabic greeting ‘Eid Mubārak (“Blessed Eid”) or ‘Eid Sa‘eed (“Happy Eid”). Muslims are also encouraged on this day to forgive and forget any differences or past animosities that may have occurred with others during the year.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish Eid Mubarak to all Muslim believers.

Jura Nanuk,
President of the Committee for Inter-Religious Cooperation

Where is the Panchen Lama?

28 08 2011

The present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is a matter of controversy: the People’s Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu (Gyancain Norbu), while the current Dalai Lama named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on May 14, 1995. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima vanished from public eye shortly after being named, aged six. Chinese authorities stated that Gedhun had been taken into protective custody and is now safe, but there is no information regarding from what, or from whom, he must be protected, where he is being held, or under what conditions.

Beijing’s Panchen Lama, who was selected when he was 6 years old and is also known as Gyaltsen Norbu, has taken on an increasingly political role in recent years. The now 21-year-old has made appearances with Communist Party leaders praising Chinese rule over Tibet and been appointed to the main government advisory body.

Recently, Panchen Lama installed by China’s government against the Dalai Lama’s wishes, has finished a trip to a major Buddhist monastery with comments unlikely to endear him to an already skeptical Tibetan public.

According to a report official Chinese Xinhua News Agency, the Panchen Lama said he was impressed by the amount of religious freedom enjoyed by Buddhists near the remote Labrang Monastery that has been the scene of numerous anti-Beijing protests.

The comments are likely to reinforce the belief among Tibetans that he is not the true Panchen Lama.

The Panchen Lama is the second-ranked religious leader to Tibetans, after the Dalai Lama, but most Tibetans do not accept him because he was appointed by Beijing. The original boy selected by the Dalai Lama in 1995 has not been heard from since.

I am not familiar with procedure used by Tibetan monks to trace their reincarnated Lamas’s  and I am not qualified to give my opinion about which Panchen Lama is the real one, but the question remains: where was 6 years old boy, named by Dalai Lama as reincarnation of 10th Panchen Lama, taken, by whom, why and where is he now?

To find out more click here.

President of International Association for Religious Freedom wrote to Hungarian Ambassadors in Washington, Tokyo, London

26 08 2011

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) is a UK-based NGO working for freedom of religion & belief at a global level. IARF has General Consultative Status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations. On Monday, August 22, President of IARF, Rev.  Mitsuo Miyake, sent letters to Hungarian Ambassadors in Washington, Tokyo, London, expressing his concern for the state of religious freedom in Hungary.

In his letter, the IARF President said:

During Hungary’s democratic transition twenty years ago, the separation of religious and political institutions was achieved. But on 12 July this year, Hungary’s Parliament passed a law on churches that deprived more than 100 religious denominations of their church status (notably, all Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu congregations, as well as Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventist and reform Jewish churches; the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Many religious communities have become pariahs overnight, with all their social, healthcare and educational services stripped of their lawful subsidies. This withdrawal of subsidy will impact certain groups to whom they have been providing services: the homeless, the elderly, the poor, Roma, inmates, children and young people in middle and higher education.

In breach of democratic standards separating church from state, the law declared that in future a vote by Parliamentary parties will authorize religious groups’ existence.

All groups, existing and new, will have to request recognition from a government minister, who will “evaluate” their religious creeds.

This is a violation of the principle of freedom and equality of religions, and the passage of such a law marks Hungary as the first EU member state to break with this principle.

During the Soviet domination of the1970s, worship sites were shut or demolished without recourse. But today Europe is united in the principles of freedom of belief, equality before the law, and separation of church from state (Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The IARF therefore joins the international calls urging Hungary’s political leadership to reconsider this law, in order to bring the religious life of the nation into conformity with European norms.



source: International Association for Religious Freedom

The Church of England Newspaper: Hungary bans Anglicans

20 08 2011

Hungary has introduced a new law governing the registration of religious groups that critics charge discriminates against minority faiths, and strips St Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest of its status as a religious organisation.

On 14 July the Hungarian Parliament adopted “The Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities” Law, by a vote of 254 in favour to 43 opposed.

Introduced on 10 June in Parliament, the proposed legislation would have created three tiers of religious groups, with differing authorities to conduct worship and engage in charitable activities under Hungarian law. Human Rights activists, NGOs and a number of religious leaders objected, arguing, in the words of the Washington think-tank, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, the bill gave Hungary “a tiered system offering an inferior religious status to minority faiths that violates the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from religious discrimination.”

On 12 July the governing Fidesz party with their coalition allies the Christian Democrats amended the bill, eliminating the tier system and recognising 14 religious organisations as Churches. Hungary’s 348 other faiths and denominations were stripped of their legal status as religious organisations and lost their tax exempt status and entitlements to state subsidies.

The 14 denominations that were allowed to retain their registration were the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, select Jewish denominations, the Hungarian Unitarians, the Baptists and the Faith Church.

Among those losing recognition were Hungary’s Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventist and reform Jewish congregations, the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu groups.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy condemned the new law saying it “creates the most burdensome registration system in the entire OSCE region while codifying systematic discrimination of religious minorities. The Religion Law is completely inconsistent with fundamental human rights as it contravenes the principles of equality and non-discrimination.”

A coalition of human rights and democracy activists that opposed the communist regime submitted an open letter to the European Union asking it to intervene. “Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe,” the 8 August letter stated.

“In the 1970s, under the Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, all we could do in similar situations was to hold vigils at worship sites that had been shut or demolished.

We fought for a Europe that is united under human rights. Have our hopes been in vain,” they stated, urging the EU to “start an official inquiry into this violation of the rights that are possessed by all Europeans.”

source: The Church of England Newspaper

Hungarian churches go to Constitutional Court over new church law

16 08 2011


Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 12:15 PM CET

Sixteen churches in Hungary have appealed to the Constitutional Court over the new church law, claiming it violates several basic notions on the relationship bewtween religion and state.

The churches, none of whom are recognised under the new law, argue that the legislation does not guarantee the separation of church and state, violates the basic principle of the free practice of religion customary in a state governed by the rule of law and provides no recourse to legal remedies.

The churches have sent their letter to President Pál Schmitt, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Speaker László Kövér and all parliamentary parties.

source: Budapest Business Journal

Austria: Proposed Changes to the Religion Law Represent a Major Step Backwards

16 08 2011

In an ongoing trend of legislative restrictions on religious freedom, proposed revisions to the 1998 Austrian Law on the Status of Religious Confessional Communities (1998 Law) would perpetuate a system that violates fundamental human rights.

The 1998 Law treated minority faiths and their parishioners as second class citizens not entitled to the rights, privileges and protections afforded favored faiths. Rather than remedy the defects in the law as mandated by the European Court of Human Rights and the Austria Constitutional Court, new legislation has been proposed that will propagate the inherent human rights inequities in the law and, for some religions, make matters worse.  The regressive, rather than progressive, nature of the amendments is extremely disappointing.

Instead of facilitating equal treatment of all religions, the proposed changes to the 1998 Law would deny recognition to some currently recognized religions and continue the moratorium for other religions not currently recognized as “religious societies”. These provisions are in direct defiance of judicial decisions by the European Court of Human Rights regarding these provisions, as well as OSCE and UN standards.

The proposed amendments to the law will implement: a) a three-tired system found discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights; b) retroactive “de-registration” of recognized religious groups, which violates the Rule of Law; and c) repressive membership and duration requirements.

The proposed law is scheduled to be taken up in Parliament on 6 July 2011.

Currently, there are 14 recognized religious communities in Austria. According to reports published this week by FOREF, five religions currently recognized under the 1998 Law — Old Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists, Mormons, and the Apostolic Church — would lose that status if the proposed law is enacted.

In the opinion of THE INSTITUTE, this represents a major step backwards for religious freedom in Austria.  It is surprising and distressing that a country that is the seat of major human rights institutions such the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is choosing to turn its back on human rights commitments it is obliged to follow.

The full THE INSTITUTE analysis on the Austrian amendments can be found here.

source: THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy

New Religion Law in Hungary Should be Repealed

11 08 2011


August 9, 2011

Freedom House today called for the repeal of a law on religions recently passed by the Hungarian parliament. At the same time, Freedom House supported concerns raised by15 prominent Hungarians in an open letter to Human Rights Commissioners of the European Commission and the Council of Europe regarding the new law.

The “Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community” was adopted on July 12. Only 14 of the 358 religious groups in Hungary will be granted formal recognition under the law. With the bill’s passage, hundreds of groups automatically lose their “registered” status and as of January 1, 2012 will no longer receive the budgetary allocation provided in support of their social and charitable work. Among the groups that will have to go through a tedious process to regain registered status are the Hungarian Methodist Church and a number of Islamic groups. The law recognizes the Reform, Roman Catholic, Lutheran churches and a number of Jewish groups. In order to be legally recognized, groups have to meet seven different criteria and a two-thirds parliamentary majority must approve the registration application. In order to become legally recognized, religious groups must obtain 1000 citizen signatures and have had a presence in Hungary for 20 years or more.

“It is unconscionable that any democratic country, particularly one that so recently freed itself from a Communist system in which all religious freedom was repressed, could pass such discriminatory legislation,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House.  “This kind of legislation that favors certain religions over others is typical of what one finds in countries such as Russia and Malaysia and is incompatible with liberal democracies.  Freedom House calls on the government of Hungary to adhere to the protections enshrined in its constitution, which includes the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice, and get out of the business of evaluating which religions it deems worthy.”

Hungary’s constitution promotes religious freedom and encourages separation between church and state. The “Religion Law” of 1990 gave many religious groups “registered” status, although only four groups are deemed “historic” by the state and receive government funding: the Roman Catholic Church, the Calvinist Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Communities.  Viktor Orban, the current prime minister and leader of the Fidesz–Hungarian Civic Union party, has threatened to undermine liberal democracy in Hungary by passing legislation consolidating control over the media, institutions and now religion.

Freedom House cosigned a letter sent to Secretary Hillary Clinton on June 28, 2011 urging her to voice her concerns to the Hungarian government on the then-proposed law.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

source: Freedom House

Open letter on the oppression of freedom of religion in Hungary from former Hungarian political dissidents to the Human Rights Commissioners of the European Commission and the Council of Europe

8 08 2011

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights

Budapest, 8 August 2011

Dear Vice-President Reding,

Dear Commissioner Hammarberg:

The undersigned, participants of the erstwhile human rights and democracy movement that opposed the one-party communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s, request you to take resolute action in defence of freedom of religion and other fundamental liberties that are presently in great danger in Hungary.

On 12 July 2011, based on a draft presented just two hours before the vote, Hungary’s Parliament passed a law on churches that deprived more than 100 religious denominations of their church status.

In blatant disregard of Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, only fourteen denominations were allowed to retain their recognition as churches and the rights that come with it.

In breach of democratic standards separating church from state, the law declared that, in the future, the authority to recognize churches will be a vote by the political parties sitting in Parliament.

The fourteen denominations that were allowed to retain their registration are the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, select Jewish denominations, the Hungarian Unitarians, the Baptists, and the Faith Church.

Among the churches that were discriminated against are, to mention only a few, Hungary’s Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventist and reform Jewish churches; the Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses; and all the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hinduist congregations.

Not only were these communities pushed into a pariah status overnight, but all of their social, healthcare and educational services were stripped of their lawful subsidies.

Many of the now de-registered churches have been leaders in social services for the homeless, the elderly and the poor. They have provided assistance for tens of thousands of persons in need, including Roma, inmates, children and young people. Withdrawing their subsidies leads the way to a social disaster.

Several of the cast-out churches have been running successful middle and higher education schools which now will be denied accreditation.

This unabashed violation of freedom and equality of religions is paired with an open about-face from the separation of religious and political institutions that was achieved in our democratic transition twenty years ago.

In the future, all the now-ostracized churches as well as all new ones will have to request recognition from a government minister, who will “evaluate” their religious creeds. Such requests will also have to obtain authorization from the secret services. If the minister chooses to consider the request, it will be sent to Parliament, where the sitting political parties will decide whether church status should be recognised. A positive result will necessitate a two-thirds vote.

The right to judicial overview is denied in this process. Any religious group that has been in existence for less than twenty years is automatically excluded from recognition. In violation of privacy rights, at least one thousand citizens have to personally sign each submitted request.

Dear Commissioners Reding, Hammarberg:

Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe.

In the 1970s, under the Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, all we could do in similar situations was to hold vigils at worship sites that had been shut or demolished.

We fought for a Europe that is united under human rights. Have our hopes been in vain?

The passage of this law is only the latest disturbing example of the many serious setbacks in human rights and the rule of law that have occurred recently in Hungary.

We sincerely hope that, after studying Hungary’s new Church Law, you will start an official inquiry into this violation of the rights that are possessed by all Europeans.

Yours sincerely,

Attila Ara-Kovács, journalist

György Dalos, writer

Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest

Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Róza Hodosán, former MP

Gábor Iványi, pastor

János Kenedi, historian

György Konrád, writer

Ferenc Kőszeg, Founding President of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education

Imre Mécs, former MP

Sándor Radnóti, philosopher

László Rajk, architect

Sándor Szilágyi, writer on photography

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, philosopher

ISKCON Hungary Stays Positive in the Face of Legislative Changes

7 08 2011

n Hungary, a new proposed legislation, which would have declared the equality of all registered churches including ISKCON, was changed at the last minute to exclude all Eastern religions and require them to re-register under stringent new conditions.

Depending on whether re-registration is accepted without a hitch or not, the new bill could simply be a passing inconvenience, or it could introduce sweeping changes that would be unfavorable to ISKCON.

This is a key moment in religious politics for Hungary, which has a long history of both oppression and victories in religious freedom.

“The separation of church and state was first introduced in 1895, when a law was passed listing those denominations that were recognised by the state,” explains Madhupati Dasa, head of ISKCON Hungary’s Public Relations department. “This law listed the main Christian churches as well as giving accepted status to Judaism. It set up three categories: accepted, acknowledged and tolerated.”

Madhupati gives us some more history: During the ensuing decades, precious few other churches received an acknowledged status. In 1905, the Baptists were recognised, then in 1916, the Muslims. During the regime of Miklós Horthy between 1920 and 1944, small religious communities such as the Seventh-Day Adventists were persecuted, their religious practices curtailed.

After World War II, the Communists took power in 1949 and banned all but the largest churches, which agreed to cooperate. To intimidate dissenters, many priests and other clerics were imprisoned or sent to labour camps with made-up charges. This ensured that the churches, to protect their remaining privileges, were ready to collude with Communist powers to suppress internal dissent by getting renegades—such as Catholic priest and grassroots movement founder György Bulányi—behind bars, if necessary.

“During Communist times, the state kept a ‘State Church Office,’ which supervised religious institutions and whose permissions were needed for practically everything, from getting a clergyman a passport to refurbishing a church building,” Madhupati Dasa says. “Not only was the clergy observed, but members of the church were recruited in large numbers as informants.”

At around the change of the political system, in 1989, religious freedom got its first victory: The last Communist parliament passed a law which threw the gates open for any religious community mustering at least 100 members to register as a church.
As a result, during the ensuing twenty years, a total of over 350 “churches” were registered, some of them – allegedly – merely for the additional state subsidy available for churches.

ISKCON Hungary first registered in 1989 under the old system by the State Church Authority, ISKCON was registered again according to Law 4 of 1990, as a church having all the privileges allowed by the law.

“On the surface, these privileges were largely financial: tax, customs and stamp duty exemption,” says Madhupati. “However, if one only considers the privilege of collecting donations without any special permission, we understand that the legal environment was very favourable for book distribution.”

The financial privileges were very beneficial too: Hungary introduced a system by which private individuals could allocate 1% of their Personal Income Tax to a religious organization, which became a considerable source of income for ISKCON Hungary.

In the two decades since then, ISKCON has thrived in the country. A largely self-sustaining rural community, Krishna-valley or New Vraja Dhama, was established and soon became a household name and a cherished Hungarian tourist destination. Meanwhile, Food for Life became one of the biggest food distribution charity, ISKCON’s drug addiction remedy program won acclaim from law and order circles, and Govinda’s restaurants were opened in Budapest and other cities. Another big milestone was the establishment of the State-accredited Bhaktivedanta College in Budapest.

Recently ISKCON’s success, and religious freedom in Hungary in general, seemed that it would be cemented with a new well-publicised bill, filed with Parliament by the junior party in the government, the Christian Democratic Party.

“The proposed legislation would have declared the equality of all registered churches, and would have included forty-five different churches as automatically recognized, including ISKCON Hungary,” Madhupati says. “Those churches not acknowledged automatically, could still have applied to the Municipal Court of Budapest.”

The bill was set to be voted into law, along with several others, on July 11th, the last day before Parliament’s summer recess. Literally in the last few hours, however, the major party in government, the Young Democrats, filed a modification motion which completely changed the law.

“It reserved Parliament, rather than the court, the right to register a church, tying to a two-thirds majority,” explains Madhupati. “Not only that, but the list was radically curtailed and only the three major Christian churches, some Jewish communities and a Pentecostal new church called HIT was left on it, leaving all the small religious communities out. No Eastern religions are represented on the list—there are no Buddhists, no Muslim communities, and, of course, no Hindus, either. Dozens of small, well established Christian communities such as Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons etc. were also left out.”

These communities are now required to re-register, under the following strict conditions: 1) Predominantly religious activities (formations which do mainly charity, education, health service or other activities, however useful, do not qualify as churches); 2) A minimum of twenty years of active presence; 3) a minimum of one thousand members [this condition, Madhupati says, was deleted, but the signatures of at least one thousand members stayed as compulsory documentation]; 3) negative vetting by the State Security services; 4) Those churches which do not comply with the above conditions can continue as associations, but they lose a number of privileges, such as tax exemption and additional state subsidies.

“The text of the law reflects the circumstances of its passing,” Madhupati comments. “It contains numerous inconsistencies: for instance, the list of conditions for registration does not stipulate a minimum number of members, but the required documentation does; and various dates are contradictory, so that it is unclear when the churches left out can file their application.”

ISKCON Hungary intends to comply with all the requirements, and is already in the process of compiling lists of signatures from its members to support its re-registration. While this is not a requirement, it’s an important step.

“Of course, this being sensitive, personal data, we are seeking approval from signers that their particulars may be filed with the government,” Madhupati says. “We are also keeping these lists confidential and secure until it is clarified that they have to be filed; otherwise they will be destroyed.”

ISKCON Hungary aims to register at the first opportunity, which is expected to be later this year or early next year. What happens then all depends on the political will.

“If those churches, including ISKCON, which comply with the list of conditions get registered without much hassle, the incident will be not more than a passing inconvenience,” says Madhupati. “However, if registration is denied directly or the members of Parliament happen to disagree, there will be sweeping changes.
Book distribution could even become technically illegal unless a different legal structure is found.”

Many religious organizations and international human rights agencies, as well as the US government expressed their concern about the new religious law.

Still, ISKCON Hungary remains positive.

“I expect that this law will be adjusted soon, the inconsistencies weeded out and procedural aspects elaborated,” Madhupati concludes. “And once we do get registered, either under the present law or an adjusted one, our normal preaching activities will continue largely as before.”

source: ISKCON News

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