A CALL TO ACTION: Help disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of devastating earthquake in Nepal

26 04 2015


Central-European Religious Freedom Institute invites individuals and groups to help disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of devastating earthquake in Nepal. Please click the Red Cross banner below to donate funds to Red Cross in Nepal. Any donation, doesn’t matter how small is welcomed and will be much appreciated.



Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu come together to write book on happiness

18 04 2015
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu exchange greetings on the Archbishop's arrival at Kangara Airport at the start of a seven day visit to collaborate on a book on joy in Dharamsala, India on April 18, 2015.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu exchange greetings on the Archbishop’s arrival at Kangara Airport at the start of a seven day visit to collaborate on a book on joy in Dharamsala, India on April 18, 2015.

New Delhi, April 18 — The Dalai Lama is collaborating with Archbishop Desmond Tutu for a new book that explores the topic of joy, publishers Penguin Random House said on Thursday.

The two spiritual leaders are set to meet in Dharamshala later this month for the Buddhist leader’s 80th birthday celebrations where they will work together to create “The Book of Joy,” themed on “finding enduring happiness in an uncertain world.

The meeting allows for the two Nobel Peace Laureates to spend a week together in “deep dialogue and playful laughter as they share their experience of how to find joy in the face of life’s challenges.”

Set for 2016 publication, the book is in the form of a series of dialogues, reflecting the extraordinary friendship of the authors, who call each other “spiritual brother.”

Hutchinson, part of Penguin Random House UK, has acquired the UK and Commonwealth (ex-Canada) English language rights to the book.

“The ultimate source of happiness is within us,” the Dalai Lama said in a statement. “Not money, not power, not status, which fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside,” he said.

Archbishop Tutu added, “Sometimes life can be challenging and we can feel lost. But the seeds of joy are born inside each of us. I invite you to join His Holiness and me in creating more joy in our world.” The pair of spiritual leaders are inviting people to ask questions about joy and happiness they most want answered on the authors’ Facebook pages. The most popular will be addressed during the meetings in Dharamshala this month.

Video footage of the answers will also be shared later, publishers said. Archbishop Tutu has encouraged people to “Send us your questions and help us write ‘The Book of Joy.'” The book would be co-written by Doug Abrams, who has worked with Tutu on previous books, and who will conduct the interviews.

“While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, His Holiness and the Archbishop believe that joy comes from an internal state of being. They will share how joy animates our lives and leads ultimately to a life of greater meaning and purpose and greater love and contribution,” Abrams said.

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu regarded as an world statesman, was a prominent leader in the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso known as ambassador of peace had for many years developed dialogue with scientists, in psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology that has led to a collaboration between monks and scientists in trying to help people achieve peace of mind.

Five children from five faiths

13 04 2015


In the short film “Five,” director Katina Mercadante follows five 5-year-olds as they get ready, leave home and attend prayer services. Viewers see the children, who live around the world, carefully pull on their best clothes, wash up and travel with their parents to their respective houses of worship.

Katina Mercadante

Katina Mercadante

The children come from vastly different religious and cultural backgrounds — they are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian. But when they reach their destinations, settle into stillness and close their eyes for prayer, the similarities are striking.

Mercadante, a 30-year-old filmmaker from San Francisco, grew up in the Self-Realization Fellowship, a Hindu tradition that teaches that all religions hold aspects of the divine. She said she feels that this upbringing gave her the ability to find beauty in many different religious traditions — and she wants others to see that, as well.

“Life isn’t just about money or possessions,” Mercadante said. There is an internal and spiritual life that we all have that is a really important of being a human and existing. And it doesn’t matter where you get that from.”

Source: Huffington Post

Ash Wednesday Explained: The Meaning Behind The Dust

19 02 2015
A Catholic nun uses ash to mark a cross on the forehead of a child in observance of Ash Wednesday at The Redemptorist Church at suburban Paranaque city south of Manila, Philippines Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lent, a season of prayer and fasting before Easter. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

A Catholic nun uses ash to mark a cross on the forehead of a child in observance of Ash Wednesday at The Redemptorist Church at suburban Paranaque city south of Manila, Philippines Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lent, a season of prayer and fasting before Easter. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Religion News Service – Chances are you’ll see a bunch of folks walking around with schmutz on their foreheads this Wednesday (Feb. 18). The ‘Splainer asks what having a dirty forehead has to do with being a Christian and why this ritual is gaining in popularity.

Q: Excuse me, but why do you have dirt on your forehead?

A: Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

Q: Well, that’s cheerful. Why would anyone want to start a workday on such a downer?

A: It isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s supposed to be a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. OK, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer — that verse from Genesis is what God said to Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden for their sins. But there’s a big party the night before Ash Wednesday. That’s Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” a secular observance that evolved out of “Shrove Tuesday,” the last hurrah – usually marked by eating of pancakes or other sinfully sweet foods – before the solemnity and penance of Lent set in.

Q: OK, so don’t invite me over for dinner until Lent is over in 40 days.

A: Fun fact: Lent is actually longer than 40 days. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but most churches don’t count the Sundays as part of Lent.

Q: I thought only Catholics marked Ash Wednesday?

A: Not anymore. It used to be true that Catholics made up the lion’s share of people celebrating Ash Wednesday. But today, most “liturgical churches” — those with a regular, calendar-based liturgy, or set of rituals and observances — mark the day, including Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and other Protestants. Some evangelicals are even beginning to get into the spirit as Baptist churches in Alabama, Texas and Arkansas have smeared some ash in recent years. But the majority of evangelical and Pentecostal Christians don’t observe the day, and neither do Mormons.

Q: Do you have to go to church before or after work to get your ashes?

A: Not anymore! Many churches, ministries and clergy offer “ashes to go,” which can range from dispensing ashes on subway and train platforms, on street corners and other urban crossroads. Some enterprising Christians even offer ashes in a drive-thru.

Q: I don’t remember reading about Ash Wednesday in the Bible. Where did the practice come from?

A: That’s true; there is no mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible. But there is a tradition of donning ashes as a sign of penitence that predates Jesus. In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are other associations of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. By the 10th century, the monk Aelfric tied the practice, which dates to the eighth century, to the period before Easter, writing, “Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.” By the 11th century, the practice was widespread throughout the church — until Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, threw the practice out in the 16th century because it was not biblically based. There’s no Lent in the Bible, either, though many Christians see it as an imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and battling with Satan in the desert.

Q: When can you wash the dirt off your face?

A: No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual. But some Christians choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith.

Quote of the week

9 01 2015

“If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, of self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. ”
Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness


Woman thrown out of Paris opera because of Muslim veil

22 10 2014
Daily Mail (20.10.2014) – France’s Socialist government today pledged to toughen up its anti face-covering law after a veiled Muslim woman was ejected from a major Paris opera house.

In an incident which has divided opinion in the city’s liberal arts community, cast members performing La Traviata ‘objected strongly’ to the presence of a woman in the audience wearing a niqab-type veil.

‘A singer spotted her in the front row during the second act,’ said Jean-Philippe Thiellay, director of the Bastille Opera, which was opened by Socialist president Francois Mitterand in 1989.

‘Some performers said they didn’t want to sing,’ said Mr Thiellay, who confirmed that she was kicked out.

There has been a ban on Muslims covering their face in public in France since the introduction of a law in 2011.

Women living on housing estates on the outskirts of major cities like Paris are regularly criminalised with a fine, but this is the first incident of someone being ejected from an artistic venue.

So far unnamed, she is believed to be a well-off woman from a Gulf State, and was attending the performance with a friend.

Referring to a security guard, Mr Thiellay said: ‘He told her that in France there is a ban of this nature, asked her to either uncover her face or leave the auditorium.

‘The man asked the woman to get up, they left. It was unpleasant getting her to leave.

‘But there was a misunderstanding of the law and the lady either had to respect it or leave,’

But other opera lovers in a city historically renowned for its tolerance were less impressed.

‘What possible harm could a woman sitting quietly in the audience with face covered do to anyone?’ said Guy Laurent, a regular at the Bastille Opera.

‘The woman would clearly have felt utterly humiliated by what happened – French culture should be more tolerant.

‘It is not the job of theatres to enforce petty laws.’

The incident happened on October 3, but it is only now that it is becoming a national polemic.

Technically the woman now faces a fine of just over £180, although there is not thought to have been any police involvement.

The woman and her friend were not refunded any of their ticket price.

A spokesman for France’s Ministry of Culture today said it was ‘producing a new set of rules’ to make sure the so-called ‘burka ban’ was better enforced in theatres, museums and other public institutions.

France, which is home to some five million Muslims, was the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places.

Belgium followed suit soon afterwards, but there is no veil ban at all in Britain, despite calls by a minority of right wing MPs for one.

Jews, Muslims, and Christians all had holidays on Saturday, October 4th

5 10 2014



The world’s three Abrahamic faiths are bridged their great divide in a pretty wonderful way this Saturday.

Yom Kippur, Eid Al-Adha, and St. Francis of Assisi’s Feast Day all fell on the same date this year — October 4.

In fact, this is the first time the important Jewish and Muslim holidays have overlapped in more than three decades. The last time it happened was in 1981, according to the Times of Israel.

Yom Kippur, which started at sundown on Friday, is a “Day of Atonement” for Jews. Much of the holiday is spent in the synagogues, where people seek to mend their relationship with God and ask for forgiveness from sins.

Muslims will used the day to remember the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his most treasured possession, his son, in order to obey Allah’s commands.

And Christians were celebrating the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, by bringing their four-legged friends to church for a special blessing.

It’s a time of prayer for all three faiths, according to the Religion News Service. The beautiful Kol Nidre prayer is sung in synagogues on Yom Kippur. Muslims came together to pray in mosques, saying a “takbir,” or “God is great” prayer. For the Feast of St. Francis, faithful Christians may meditate on the saint’s famous “Canticle of All Creatures.”

The best way to respond to this incredibly holy coincidence is by recognizing it for what it really is — a trifecta of awesome.

Think about it: This is an incredible opportunity for Muslims, Jews, and Christians to take a step back and really appreciate the wonderful way that religion makes meaning in people’s lives and to live together in peace.

So Tzom Kal, Eid Mubarak, and blessed Feast of St. Francis!


Source: Huffington Post

MAGYARORSZÁG: Az EBESZ (OSCE) szabványokat és az Emberi Jogok Európai Egyezményét sértő új Egyházi törvény

26 09 2014



OSCE Humán Dimenzió Megvalósítási találkozó


Varsó, 2014. Szeptember 30.


13. Munkaülés: Tolerancia és non-diszkrimináció II /
Intolerancia keresztényekkel és más vallások tagjaival szemben


MAGYARORSZÁG: Az EBESZ (OSCE) szabványokat és az Emberi Jogok Európai Egyezményét sértő új Egyházi törvény



Magyarország Kormánya, konkrétan az Emberi Erőforrások Minisztériuma helyezze vissza a 2011. Évi CCVI. Törvény függelékében hivatalos nyilvántartásba az alkotmányellenesen és az Emberi Jogok Európai Egyezményét sértően az Országgyűlés által 2011-ben jogfosztott egyházakat. Magyarországnak be kell tartania az Európai Egyezményben megfogalmazott nemzetközi jogi kötelezettségeit és a Bíróság ítéletét.

Magyarországnak módosítania kell egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvényét, hogy az egyházak jogi elismerését ne az Országgyűlés 2/3-os többségi döntése mondja ki – melyet mind az Európai Bíróság, mind a Magyar Alkotmánybíróság is kifogásolt.

A jelenlévő Államok segítsenek Magyarországnak a Helsinki szabványokhoz és a nemzetközi jog emberi jogi előírásaihoz harmonizálni az ország törvényeit.



Az Európai Vallásszabadságért Fórum (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe – FOREF) egy független, világi, civil társadalmi szerveződés a vallásszabadság nemzetközi joghoz hű megvédéséért. Komoly aggodalmunkat kívánjuk kifejezni Magyarország kormányának egyes direktíváival kapcsolatosan, melyek sértik a Helsinki Záró Határozatban valamint a Madridi, Bécsi, Koppenhágai és Maastricht-i dokumentumokban a résztvevő államok által vállalt Humán Dimenzióbeli kötelezettségeket. Ezek a direktívák önkényes diszkriminációt eredményeztek vallási közösségekkel szemben, és az államnak illegális és indokolatlan hatalmat biztosítottak ahhoz, hogy a vallási életbe beavatkozzon.

A Magyar Országgyűlés 2011-ben elfogadott egy új törvényt „a lelkiismereti és vallásszabadságról valamint az egyházak, vallásos felekezetek és vallásos közösségek jogi státusáról”. Ez a törvény megszűntette azt a korábbi gyakorlatot, hogy a vallásos közösségekkel egyenlően bántak, és a bíróságokon kellett őket bejegyezni, majd bevezetett egy szintezett rendszert, amely diszkriminál „bevett egyházak” és egyebek között, melyek kevesebb joggal és kiváltsággal rendelkeznek, továbbá a „bevett egyház” státus eldöntését az Országgyűlés 2/3-os többségi döntésének hatáskörébe sorolja. Ez a törvény legalább kétszáz egyházat megfosztott elismert státusától, köztük – egyebek mellett – Metodistákat, Pünkösdieket, Adventistákat valamint reform Izraelita egyházakat éppúgy, mint Buddhista és Hindi felekezeteket. A vallási szervezeteket bürokratikus zaklatásnak tette ki.

2013 februárjában a Magyar Alkotmánybíróság úgy ítélkezett, hogy 67 egyház, melyeket alkotmányellenesen fosztottak meg nyilvántartásba-vételüktől ebből kifolyólag továbbra is egyházak. A Magyar Alkotmánybíróság ítéletének 217. pontja szerint:

[…] az egyházi jogállás egyik következménye, hogy az ilyen jogállással rendelkező vallási közösségeket a miniszter köteles nyilvántartásba venni. Mivel az Alkotmánybíróság jelen határozatának következtében nem maradt hatályban az Ehtv.-ben olyan szabály, amely a miniszter általi nyilvántartásba vételt kizárólagosan az egyház Országgyűlés általi elismeréséhez (illetve az Ehtv. Mellékletének módosításához) kötné, nincs törvényi akadálya annak, hogy az OGYh.-ban elutasított, de a jelen határozat visszamenőleges hatályú rendelkezése értelmében az egyházi jogállásuktól meg nem fosztott vallási közösségek … adataikat bejelentsék a miniszternek és az nyilvántartásba vegye őket

Sajnos a kormány nyíltan semmibe vette a Bíróság határozatait. Az Emberi Erőforrások Minisztériuma minimum négy státusától megfosztott egyháztól megtagadta, hogy felvegye őket a „bevett egyházak” közé (Magyarországi Evangélium Testvérközösség, Budapesti Autonóm Gyülekezet, Isten Gyülekezete Pünkösdi Egyház, Fény és Szeretet Egyháza). Egy Franz Kafka-i regényhez illő válasszal azt hangoztatta a Minisztérium, hogy az igénylő csoportokat nem tudja nyilvántartásba venni, mert a bevett egyházak már szerepelnek a nyilvántartásban és a folyamodó egyházak nincsenek a nyilvántartásban. Természetesen annak, oka, hogy miért nincsenek a nyilvántartásban az, hogy a kormány nem helyezi őket oda. Egy még Kafkaibb csavarral, mikor ezek a jogfosztott egyházak a Magyar bíróságokhoz fordultak, akkor a bíróságok sorra azt az ítéletet hozták, hogy a Minisztériumnak fel kell vennie őket a hivatalos nyilvántartásba. De mivel a bíróságok nem tudják kényszeríteni a Minisztériumot az egyházak nyilvántartásbavételére, ezért  az egyházakat kötelezte, hogy forduljanak beadványukkal a Magyar Kormányhoz, amely természetesen megintcsak vissza tudja utasítani, hogy betartsa az írott ítéletet, s ez így mehet a végtelenségig.

A Magyar Országgyűlés, ahelyett, hogy a jogrend alapjait követné és a Legfelsőbb Bíróság ítéletét betartaná, oly módon módosította Magyarország Alaptörvényét, hogy az kifejezetten az Országgyűlésnek adja a jogot önkényes döntéshozatalra az egyházak nyilvántartásbavételéhez. Az egyes egyházak jogi státusának megítélésére az Országgyűlés által alkalmazott procedúrát szintén célzottan kifogásolta a Demokráciát a Jogon át Európai Bizottsága (Velencei Bizottság), mint amely inkompatibilis a kellő eljáráshoz való joggal (66/2012. vélemény, 76-77. bekezdés). Az Emberi Jogok Európai Bírósága szerint az Országgyűlés általi elismerés sémája „veleszületetten magában hordozza a semlegesség elvének semmibevételét (Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház és mások, kontra Magyarország, 102. bekezdés). Az Alaptörvény ily módon egy kendőzetlen megsértése a vallásszabadság és az emberi jogok alapelveinek. Egyetlen törvényalkotási intézmény sem rendelkezhet olyan hatalommal, hogy felülbírálja a vallásszabadságot.

2014 áprilisában az Európai Emberjogi Bíróság azt az ítéletet hozta, hogy az európai Alapegyezmény 9. és 11. cikkelye által e vallási csoportok számára biztosított alapvető jogokat a Magyar Országgyűlés megsértette, azzal, hogy törölte a nyilvántartásból a hivatalosan elismert egyházakat (Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház és mások, kontra Magyarország). Magyarország fellebbezett a feljebbviteli bizottsághoz. A feljebbviteli bizottság elutasított a fellebbezést 2014 szeptemberében, így az ítélet végleges és jogerős.

Az Európai Emberjogi Bíróság ítéletének, valamint a közös Helsinki alapelveink fényében, melyek védik a vallási közösségek megkülönböztetéstől való szabadságát, és ismerve Magyarország saját Alkotmánybíróságának ítéletét, a FOREF tisztelettel kéri hogy Magyarország kormánya, és konkrétan Balog Zoltán, az Emberi Erőforrások Minisztere helyezze vissza a nyilvántartásból 2011-ben az Országgyűlés által alkotmányellenesen eltávolított egyházakat a bevett egyházak nyilvántartásába, és a 2011. Évi CCVI. Törvény függelékébe. Magyarországnak tiszteletben kell tartania az Európai Alapegyezményhez fűződő nemzetközi kötelezettségeit és be kell tartani a Bíróság ítéletét.

Továbbá Magyarországnak módosítania kell az egyházakkal kapcsolatos törvényét, hogy az egyházak elismerését ne 2/3-os többségű országgyűlési határozat szablya meg – melyet az Európai és a Magyar Bírósági is kifogásolt.

Az EBESZ résztvevő Államai támogatását kérjük, hogy segítsenek Magyarországnak a Helsinki szabványokhoz és a nemzetközi jog emberi jogi előírásaihoz harmonizálni az ország törvényeit. Köszönöm a figyelmüket.


HUNGARY: New Religion Law at Variance with OSCE Standards and the European Convention on Human Rights

25 09 2014
Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister

Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister

By FOREF Europe

BUDAPEST, 25.09.2014 (FOREF) – The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe prepared following intervention for the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting and will present it on 30 September 2014 in Warsaw/Poland at the working session 13: Tolerance and non-discrimination II/ Intolerance against Christians and members of other religions. (See also a recent comment “A slippery Magyar slope” by The Economist.)


That the Government of Hungary, and specifically the Minister of Human Capacities, place back on the official registry of incorporated churches included in the appendix of Act CCVI (206) of 2011 those churches deregistered unconstitutionally and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by Parliament in 2011. Hungary should honor its international legal commitment to the European Convention and abide by the Court’s decision.

That Hungary should modify its church law so that legal recognition of churches is not determined by 2/3 vote of Parliament, something criticized in both the European Court and the Hungarian Constitutional Court.

That participating States to assist Hungary to harmonize its laws in accordance with the Helsinki standards and international human rights law.


The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) is an independent, secular, civil society formation dedicated to defending the freedom of religion in accordance with international law.  We wish to express our deep concern about policies of the government of Hungary that violate Human Dimension commitments undertaken by the participating States in the Helsinki Final Act and in the Madrid, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Maastricht documents.  These policies have resulted in arbitrary discrimination against religious communities, and have given the state illegal and inappropriate power to interfere in religious life.

In 2011, the Hungarian Parliament passed a new law on “the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the Legal Status of Churches, Religious Denominations and Religious Communities.”  The law abolished the previous practices of treating religious communities equally and registering them through the courts, and instituted a tiered system that discriminates between “incorporated churches” and others that enjoy fewer rights and privileges, and which refers determination of “incorporated church” status to a 2/3-majority vote in Parliament. The law resulted in the de-registration of at least two hundred churches, including, inter alia Methodist, Pentecostal, Adventists and reform Jewish churches, as well as Buddhist and Hinduist congregations.  It has exposed religious organizations to bureaucratic harassment.
In February 2013, Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled that 67 churches that had been deregistered unconstitutionally were therefore still churches.  According to point 217 of the Hungarian Court’s decision,

One of the requirements of possessing church status is that the minister must place religious communities that possess such status on the registry. Since, as a consequence of the Constitutional Court’s present decision, the provision is no longer in effect which stipulates the minister’s act of registration is tied exclusively to Parliament’s recognition of a church, there is no legal obstacle preventing religious communities, whose applications were rejected by the decision of Parliament, but who, as a result of the retroactive effect of this decision have not lost their church status … from reporting their data to the minister who can then register them.

Unfortunately, the government has deliberately disregarded the Court’s orders. The Ministry of Human Capacities has rejected the written requests of at least four deregistered churches to be placed on the registry of incorporated churches (Magyarországi Evangélium Testvérközösség, Budapesti Autonóm Gyülekezet, Isten Gyülekezete Pünkösdi Egyház, Fény és Szeretet Egyháza).   In a response worthy of a novel by Franz Kafka, the Ministry stated that it could not place the groups on the registry because according to the law, incorporated churches are already on the registry, and the churches making the request were not on the registry.  Of course, the reason they are not on the registry is because the government will not place them there. In yet an even more Kafkaesque twist, when these deregistered churches have turned to the Hungarian courts, the courts have consistently ruled that the Ministry should have placed them on the official registry. But because the courts can’t force the Ministry to register the churches, it has ordered that the churches should resubmit their request to the Hungarian Government, which can, of course, refuse again to comply with the written request ad infinitum.

Instead of adhering to the rule of law and abiding with the highest court, the Hungarian Parliament amended Hungary’s Basic Law in a way that explicitly grants Parliament the right to render arbitrary decisions concerning church registration.   The procedure by which Parliament determines the legal status of individual churches was also criticized explicitly by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) as incompatible with the standards of due process (Opinion 664/2012 par. 76-77).  According to the European Court of Human Rights the scheme of parliamentary recognition “inherently carries with it the disregard of neutrality” (Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary, par. 102).  The Basic Law is thus in blatant violation of a fundamental principle of religious freedom and human rights.  No legislative body should have the power to rule over religious freedom.

In April 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that that Hungarian Parliament’s deregistration of legally recognized churches constituted an interference with those groups’ fundamental rights as secured by articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention (Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary). Hungary appealed the decision to the Grand Chamber.  The Grand Chamber rejected that appeal in September 2014, so the decision is now final and binding.
In light of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as our common Helsinki principles that uphold the freedom of religious communities from discrimination, and given the ruling by Hungary’s own Constitutional Court, FOREF respectfully asks that the Government of Hungary, and specifically the Minister of Human Capacities, Zoltán Balog, place those churches deregistered unconstitutionally by Parliament in 2011, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, back on the official registry of incorporated churches included in the appendix of Act CCVI (206) of 2011. Hungary should honor its international legal commitment to the European Convention and abide by the Court’s decision.

Furthermore, Hungary should modify its church law so that legal recognition of churches is not determined by 2/3 vote of Parliament, something criticized in both the European Court and the Hungarian court.

We ask the support of participating States to assist Hungary to harmonize its laws in accordance with the Helsinki standards and international human rights law.  Thank you for your attention.

Religious freedom and Central Europe: A slippery Magyar slope

25 09 2014
Pastor Ivanyi Gabor

Pastor Ivanyi Gabor

RESTRICTIONS on religious freedom do not necessarily involve draconian actions like imprisoning pastors, flogging alleged “blasphemers” or bulldozing places of worship. Liberty of faith can be curbed in much milder ways, and it is still something that needs careful watching. To take one example, the Hungarian government has been taken by task by the American State Department, by its own constitutional court, and mostly recently by the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR) over a religion law which makes the status of churches subject to political caprice.

Aaron Rhodes

Aaron Rhodes

The story starts in 2011 with the passage of an ill-named law on “the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the Legal Status of Churches, Religious Denominations and Religious Communities.” As Aaron Rhodes, a religious freedom campaigner, put it, this replaced a fair system (creating a level playing field for all faiths) with a bad one. The law stopped treating religious communities equally and brought in a tiered system that distinguishes between so-called incorporated churches, which enjoy many legal advantages, and less fortunate religious groups with fewer entitlements.

The troubling thing was that getting recognition as an “incorporated church” required a two-thirds majority in Parliament. So what should be a simple administrative decision was turned into a political one, in which legislators have to assess the merits of a religion. The government insisted that the law was necessary to stop opportunistic cults or “business churches” from establishing themselves with no other aim but taking advantage of the favourable tax regime that religious groups enjoy. But critics said the legislation amounted to killing a fly with a sledge-hammer.

As a result of the law, at least 200 religious communities, including Methodists, Pentecostalists, Seventh Day Adventists, Reform Jews, Buddhists and Hindus faced a downgrading of their status. One of the people who fell foul of the law was Gabor Ivanyi (pictured above), who runs a highly respected Methodist church as well as schools and homeless shelters. His church was closed by the communist authorities in 1977, but he surprised to find himself in legal no-man’s-land under a democratic government.

In February 2013, Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled that 67 groups had been deregistered unconstitutionally. However the government seems to have ignored the ruling. A government ministry rejected the written requests of at least four deregistered bodies to be added to the list of incorporated churches.

Hungary’s populist government has suffered two fresh defeats over the issue this year. In April, the ECHR ruled that forcing the re-registration of legally recognised churches was a violation of human rights. Hungary tried appealing to the court’s Grand Chamber but that move has just been turned down. The court said the Hungarian government must negotiate compensation for damages with the nine churches that brought the complaint.

At a diplomatic gathering in Poland next week, the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe, a Vienna-based campaign group headed by Mr Rhodes, will take Hungary to task over the law and ask why the Budapest government has paid so little attention to successive scoldings from international and domestic courts. That is a question worth posing. Nobody is going to be clapped in irons or tortured because of Hungary’s religion law, but it sets a dubious precedent—especially at a time when the European Union, to which Hungary belongs, is supposed to be spreading the ideal of religious freedom round the world.


Source: www.economist.com

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