The Midnight Adoption of Europe's Most Restrictive Religion Law

The Hungarian parliament procured for the country the title of Worst Religion Law in Europe when it rushed after midnight to adopt the "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion."
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While Communism officially ended in Hungary more than 20 years ago, it appears the dictatorial mindset has not yet fully abated.

On July 12, the Hungarian parliament procured for the country the title of Worst Religion Law in Europe when it rushed after midnight to adopt its new "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities."

The passage of such a draconian religion law in Hungary is both saddening and disappointing. This law stands at odds with the newly drafted Hungarian Constitution this author openly applauded just months prior. Unfortunately, the law is a danger to all Hungarian society and a terrible indication of the state of democracy in the country.

More than three hundred currently registered religious organizations will be retroactively stripped of their status as religious communities and "de-registered" as religious organizations, losing key rights and privileges provided to favored Churches. Only 14 religious organizations will retain their registration status, while all others will be forced to "re-register."

Religious organizations that have been "de-registered" are prohibited from holding themselves out as a "church." Worse, they will also lose their status as a religious organization if they are not re-registered through burdensome and discriminatory administrative and legislative proceedings. Re-registration can only occur if a minority religious community meets onerous duration levels designed to suppress minority religious freedom in complete contravention of European Human Rights Court's and OSCE's standards.

According to the most oppressive amendments offered shortly before the Law was adopted, a religious organization seeking re-registration must first file an application that is reviewed by the Minister of Justice who will examine the application and impermissibly "evaluate" religious doctrines and beliefs, ensure that the religious organization has been in existence in Hungary for at least 20 years, and seek confirmation from the competent official body that the organization is not considered a national security risk. All these criteria violate clear human rights precedent established by the European Human Rights Court.

If the Minister finds that the organization meets these intolerable requirements, the request for re-registration is then sent to the parliament for final approval.

Only after a two-thirds vote approving registration by parliament can the religious organization be added to the list of 14 recognized religions. This effectively reduces religious registration to a beauty contest by allowing votes to be cast on purely discriminatory grounds, making a mockery of the need for neutrality in matters of religion.

Minority faiths will inevitably be subject to flagrant discrimination under this system.

The passage of this religion law is the latest and most disturbing example of this serious setback of human rights and the rule of law in Hungary. The legislation contravenes OSCE, European Union, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights and United Nations standards because it clearly discriminates against minority religious groups.

In the midst of celebrating the break from its Soviet past by crafting a new constitution, erecting a statute of Ronald Reagan, and opening the Tom Lantos Human Rights Institute, the Government of Hungary has thrust the nation back into a system of repressive and restrictive legislation with this new law.

The government in Hungary must realize the terrible mistake it has made. The president of Hungary must not sign the religion law. Instead, the president should send the law back to the parliament with comments and instructions directing the parliament to re-examine and amend the law so that it complies with the international and European human rights standards that it flagrantly violates. Furthermore, the European Union, Council of Europe and the OSCE must urgently take all the necessary actions to ensure the compliance of Hungary with international standards on non-discrimination and freedom of religion. Only then can Hungary prove it has divorced itself from its Soviet past while continuing its transition into a true democracy.

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