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Update on Hungarian Law on Churches

30 12 2011

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Short summary of today’s day might sound like this: While Hungarian Parliament Members were voting about the new religious law, people were demonstrating outside the Parliament demanding religious freedom for all.

Although Hungarian Parliament is among the most beautiful parliament buildings in the world, beauty is not enough to prevent some really ugly laws to be created there. The positive news is that request for “100 years of presence in Hungary or Internationally”, was changed back to “20 years of existence in Hungary”.

We are waiting to receive the translation of the final text of the law, and will provide you more detailed update in a couple of days. In the photo gallery below you can see pictures of demonstrations held outside the Parliament as well as the pictures of Parliament from the inside.

We really hope next year will be better, but to make it better all of us will need to work harder, or as one advertisment said “Don’t work harder, work smarter”.

 

Photo by Jura Nanuk/CERF Institute

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Hungary’s New Churches Losing Recognition; Evangelicals Among Those Targeted

29 12 2011

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife) — A key official of Hungary’s ruling center-right Fidesz party has submitted a draft law to parliament that is expected to make it potentially impossible for newer evangelical churches to be recognized by the state.

Fidesz caucus leader János Lázár asked legislators to ensure that only churches with at least “100 years of international operations” can be recognized, with others being forced to re-register themselves in front of parliament’s religious committee if they want to continue as an official church.

Officials said so far over 70 communities have submitted such requests, but Fidesz legislator Gergely Gulyás acknowledged that only “about 12 new churches” could be recognized by late February.

Lázár’s initiative, revealed Friday, December 23, comes just days after the Constitutional Court struck down the previous version of the restrictive church legislation, which only recognizes 14 of the 358 faith groups in Hungary.

The draft law, which critics say resembles Hungary’s previous Communist-era, is similar to the legislation the Constitutional Court rejected “on procedural grounds”.

HARE KRISHNA

One new element makes official recognition of the Hare Krishna community impossible, though another takes away a clause that would have deprived the group of its land. Another group, the Church of Scientology, will also not get official status amid security concerns, Gulyás said, refecting view in several other countries including Germany where it has been investigated by authorities for alleged wrongdoing, charges denied by the group.

Yet, newer Hungarian evangelical churches, who emerged publicly after the collapse of Communism in 1989, can also expect difficulties because the proposed law only recognizes Hungary’s traditional Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox denominations, as well as some Jewish groups.

Several evangelical congregations and other groups operating outside the state-approved denominations, held underground worship services under Communism, an era when some were raided by police and several Christians were jailed, put under house arrest or under surveillance, and lost their jobs.

While police raids are not expected yet, newer churches will no longer receive key financial support and tax advantages from the state for their social and charitable work.

At least tens of thousands of deeply impoverished Hungarians receiving church support, including many Gypsies, or Roma, are among this be impacted by the move in this predominantly Catholic nation of 10 million people, the opposition says.

Hungary’s former Communists-turned-Socialists, who are now in opposition, have called the law adoption date of July 12 “a day of mourning in church history”.

“SERIOUS SETBACK”

The law was condemned as a “serious setback for religious freedom in Hungary” in a petition to parliament by the Southern Baptist Convention, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union and Helsinki Committee and other groups.

Hungary’s smaller Church of God, said recently the law’s final text had been “very different” than the version shown to faith groups during a May consultation. “I don’t think anyone will come and tell us we can’t worship God,” explained Laszlo Debreceni, a leader of the church, which claims to have been in Hungary since 1907 but was stripped of recognition under the law. “But it will raise serious issues that some churches are now on the approved list and others not.”

Lazar said however he had asked the Hungarian Reformed Church and the Hungarian Lutheran Church to name the “global religions and religious communities” which they believe should be added to the circle of recognized churches in Hungary. Both churches had urged the government to expand the church status to other faith groups.

In a letter, Lazar urged them to identify those communities who “have demonstrated that their teachings promote values and their social services benefit the community.”

However advocacy group Freedom House has condemned the ‘Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community’ as government interference in faith.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

“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,” said Paula Schriefer, the group’s director of advocacy.

The United States also expressed concerns with 13 members of Congress urging Prime Minister Viktor Orban to change the law. In a letter this month they repeated demands by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to bring the law into line with international human rights agreements.

And, in one of her strongest remarks yet, US ambassador Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos expressed concerns about the government’s policies.  “I urge the government to look again.  A number of credible voices are raising questions.  Are there sufficient checks and balances built in to the new system such that the independence of democratic institutions is maintained for future generations of Hungarians?”

Despite an international outcry, the ‘Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community’, was expected to be adopted after Christmas ahead of the January 1 enforcement of a controversial constitution, which limits the powers of the Constitutional Court and other institutions.

The Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has a two-third majority in parliament and already pushed through several laws, ranging from media legislation requiring “balanced reporting” to election laws that the opposition says ensures its rule for years to come.

US, EU CONCERNS

Additionally, the European Union and United States have also expressed concerns over financial legislation, including a law limiting the independence of the Central Bank.

Thousands of people demonstrated late Friday against “the end of democracy” in this nation fo 10 million people amid Western concerns over the alleged autocratic and nationalistic policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Some 26 activists, including legislators and former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, were briefly detained Friday, December 23, after they blocked access to the parliament building with several demonstrators chained to the entrance of the parking area.

Yet, Fidesz legislators managed to get into the parliament building, rubber stamping laws about the economy and elections, despite a call from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso not to adopt the legislation amid fears it could undermine the independence of key institutions.

Prime Minister Orban Viktor Oban has rejected international criticism questioning his democratic credentials. ” I told him (President Barroso) that there was no possibility to delay [the laws] as our Constitution will take effect on January 1 … and both laws are important bricks in the new constitutional order,”
Orban told HirTV in an interview.

“Brussels is not Moscow”, he said in reference to the time when Hungary was forced to be a sattelite of the Soviet Union. “There are over 700 such disputes between member states and the Commission in which the Commission attacked the given member state and said some of its legislation went against EU law.”

Hungary became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004 with nine other mainly ex-Communist countries.

Photo by Abuk





Happy Hanukkah!

25 12 2011

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Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, a Festival of Light, celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar.

In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication”. This holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.

According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas.

Hanukkah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. Because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Hanukkah has become much more festive and Christmas-like. Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah – often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won’t feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.

Every community has its unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: lighting the hanukkiyah candleholder, spinning the dreidel  spinning wheel and eating fried foods.

Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.

Spinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side.  Gelt, which are chocolate coins covered with tin foil, are part of this game.

Eating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jelly-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute,
I wish Chag Urim Sameach to all members of Jewish community!

Jura Nanuk,
Central-European Religious Freedom Institute





Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s speech at Mass on Christmas Eve

25 12 2011

 

 

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“Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.”

“Anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.”

Pope Benedict XVI

 

Source: Vatican News Agency





Looming De-registration of Churches in Hungary Prompts IRLA Meeting with Ambassador

24 12 2011

More than 300 religious organizations are set to lose legal status on Jan. 1

Dec. 13, 2011 … International Religious Liberty Association leaders met this week with the Hungarian ambassador to the United States in an effort to help officials from that country better understand the potential effects of a looming deregistration of churches.The Law of Churches, set for implementation on January 1, would deregister all but 14 religious denominations in Hungary.

Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, Gyorgy Szapary, met with IRLA deputy secretary generals Dwayne Leslie and Ganoune Diop on December 12 at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, D.C. While the law is still set for implementation, the IRLA representatives later described the meeting as “cordial” and “productive.”

“We expressed our deep concerns to Ambassador Szapary about Hungary’s recently passed ‘Law on Churches’ and its impact, not just on the Adventist Church, but on many other minority religions as well,” said Dwayne Leslie, director of legislative affairs for the IRLA. Leslie represented the IRLA at the meeting along with Ganoune Diop, the organization’s representative to the United Nations.

Following Monday’s meeting, Diop said the ambassador was gracious and receptive to the issues presented.”The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for dialogue — we stated our concerns clearly, and heard the perspective of the Hungarian government,” he said.

When the new law, voted in July, goes into effect next month, it will strip all but 14 “historic” religions of their legal status. Minority religions must then apply to the Hungarian parliament for re-registration.

Since the legislation was passed, Hungary has maintained that the move was not “anti-religion,” but rather a legislative means to root out fraudulent organizations operating behind the protection of religion.

Religious liberty advocates worldwide, however, have decried the law, calling it unnecessary state interference with religion and a setback for human rights in Hungary. More than 300 groups are set to lose their registration, including Hungary’s Methodists, Unitarians, a number of Islamic communities, and many smaller Protestant and evangelical churches.

Source: Bettina Krause/IRLA





Merry Christmas

23 12 2011

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:29-32

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish Merry Christmas to all Christian believers.

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





Update on situation with Hungarian law on religions

20 12 2011

During last ten days, the situation with the law was developing with dramatic speed. Everything I wanted to post on my blog regarding it, would be outdated in matter of hours. But here is a short summary of what was happening.

Since July, several individuals, religious communities and institutions, including Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, filed their complaints to Hungarian Constitutional Court. Constitutional Court didn’t act as upon the religious law as they were expecting a new law which would regulate their basis of operation. When it became obvious that this law will seriously affect their work they rushed to give their opinion on several laws including the law on churches/religions.

Government was totally unprepared for such a bold move on the side of Constitutional Court. The solution which Government worked out was to simply withdraw the law, temporarily, hoping to prevent Constitutional Court’s negative verdict/opinion.

Lazar Janos, one of the leaders of the ruling FIDESZ party, said openly that they plan to get exactly the same law back, through the Parliament, after Christmas, knowing very well that the law is not valid until it is published in official state legal newspapers. This law would be finally published probably on 30 December which would be too late for Constitutional Court to take it up. Their reasoning was Const Court can’t do anything if the law is not there, and is withdrawn. But Constitutional Court surprised everybody and just went ahead. In their verdict they canceled the law due to some procedural mistake – in July, after some key elements were changed in the law, the law was not sent to MP’s for another reading, but was voted upon.

Good news is that Const Court did something, bad news is that they didn’t comment on the fact that this law severely violates religious freedom in Hungary.

This is basically what is happening. If you have any comments or news or you disagree with something I said, you are welcome to fill up the comment form below.

 

Sincerely yours,

Jura Nanuk,
Central-European Religious Freedom Institute

Photo by Amerikai Nepszava








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