Letters to the Editor: Sept. 2011

The Vienna Review welcomes letters from its readers

An Open letter to Viviane Reding and Thomas Hammarberg 

EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, and Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe

Dear Commissioners, 

On Jul. 12, Hungary’s Parliament passed a “church law” depriving over 100 religious denominations of their official status, in blatant violation of the freedom and equality of religions enshrined in Art. 10 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Art. 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Only fourteen Christian and Jewish denominations retained their recognition as official churches and the rights that come with it. All the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu congregations were denied accreditation, along with the Methodist, Pentecostal, and Adventist churches, the Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Reform Judaism, to name but a few.

Many of the now de-registered churches have been leaders in providing social services for the homeless, the elderly and the poor, as well as supporting marginalised groups such as Roma and prison inmates. Overnight, these services were stripped of their lawful subsidies, paving the way to a social disaster. Similarly, many of the cast-out churches have been running successful schools which will now be denied accreditation.

Most worryingly, the new church law undoes the separation of religious and political institutions achieved in Hungary’s democratic transition twenty years ago. To re-gain recognition, ostracized churches will have to submit a request signed by at least one thousand declared supporters, in clear violation of privacy rights. A government minister will then “evaluate” their religious creeds, and must seek authorization from the secret services.

Should a request pass the assessment, it will be sent to Parliament, where a two-thirds majority is required to grant official church status.

The right to judicial overview is denied in this process, while any religious groups that have not been in existence for at least twenty years are automatically excluded.

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

In the 1970s, under the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, all we could do in similar situations was hold vigils at sites of worship that had been shut down or demolished. We fought for a Europe that is united under human rights. Have our hopes been in vain?

We sincerely urge you to start an official inquiry into Hungary’s new Church Law, and its violation of rights possessed by all Europeans.

Budapest, Aug. 8, 2011, signed by

Gabor Demszky, Mayor of Budapest 1990-2010, founder of AB Publishing House

Miklós Haraszti, Columbia Law School adj. professor, founder of journal Beszélő

György Konrád, writer, former President of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Art

Ferenc Kőszeg, former MP, founding president, Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Bálint Magyar, former MP, fmr. Minister of Education, VP, Committee EU Programmes

László Rajk Jr., former MP, founder of the Samizdat Boutique Publishing House

and 38 other members of the 1970s Human Rights and Democracy Movement in Hungary

See www.iprotest.hu for further details.

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