Religious Freedom and the New Hungarian Constitution – January 2012

17 January 2012. The new ‘Church Law’. (Secular Hungary)

15 January 2012. Hungary: Twilight of the gods. Only thirty-seven churches remain in running for official recognition after controversial new law takes effect. (Robert Hodgson, The Budpaest Times)

7 January 2012. 82 churches ask to be recognized in Hungary. (Associated Press via

4 January 2012. US diplomat: Hungary could lose its EU membership. (EurActiv)

4 January 2012. New Hungarian constitution revokes nation’s recognition of Islam & other religions. (Ahlul Bayt News Agency)

4 January 2012. Hungary’s leaders accused of power grab. (Pablo Gorondi, Brisbane Times)

2 January 2012. Thousands protest over new Hungarian constitution. (Pablo Gorondi, Huff Post World)

2 January 2012. [Hungary’s] ‘unconstitutional constitution.’ (Kim Lane Scheppele, The New York Times)

31 December 2011. Pastor responds to Hungarian religious law. (Sami K. Martin, The Christian Post)

31 December 2011. Breaking news: Thousands of Hungarians demonstrate against “end of democracy.” (Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife)

30 December 2011. News alert: Hungary approves restrictive church law amid evangelical protests. (Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife)

Below are excerpts from the article “The Unconstitutional Constitution,” by Kim Lane Scheppele, The New York Times Opinion Pages, 2 January 2012.

On New Year’s Day, the new Hungarian constitution became law. The Hungarian parliament has been preparing for this event by passing a blizzard of “cardinal” – or super-majority – laws, changing the shape of virtually every political institution in Hungary and making the guarantee of constitutional rights less secure. In the last two weeks alone, the parliament has enacted so many new laws that it has been almost impossible to keep up. And to top it off, there was also a huge new omnibus constitutional amendment – an amendment to the new constitution even before it went into effect. By one commentator’s count, the Fidesz government has enacted 359 new laws since it came to power 18 months ago. …

… And the law on churches, where the Court’s only objections had been that the parliament had engaged in procedural errors while passing the law the first time, was reintroduced into the parliament and passed again with its content almost unchanged. The Court had been asked to address many constitutional issues in the substance of the law on the status of churches, but it left those questions unanswered….

But it is worth lingering on the newly re-enacted law on the status of churches because it is one of the places where we can clearly see the effects of the new constitutional order on the protection of constitutional rights. What does the law on churches do? It creates 14 state-recognized religions, and decertifies the rest. On January 1, over 300 denominations lose their official status in Hungary – including their tax exemptions and their abilities to run state-funded schools. While most of the denominations are tiny, many are not. Among the religions that will no longer be able to operate with state approval are all versions of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Baha’i, as well as many smaller Catholic orders including the Benedictines, Marists, Carmelites and Opus Dei, and a number of major Protestant denominations including Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Methodists, and all but one of the evangelical churches. One each of the orthodox, conservative and liberal Jewish synagogues are recognized; but all other Jewish congregations are not.