June 12, 2014
A parliamentary Committee on Justice held a hearing today in Budapest to determine whether the applications of five religious communities for church status should be forwarded to Parliament, which would need to approve the applications with a 2/3 super-majority vote. The five religious communities in question were deprived of church status in 2011, when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s parliament passed a new law on the status of churches. The Committee on Justice will determine next week whether the five religious communities in question are “suitable for cooperation with the state in promoting community goals,” a condition for church recognition laid down in the new law. By insisting that it would evaluate religious communities on the basis of their “suitability for cooperation,” the Committee on Justice appears to be signaling its intention to ignore a recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which found Hungary’s church law in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In February 2013, Hungary’s Constitutional Court found significant portions of the church law unconstitutional and restored the church status of numerous religious communities. Orbán’s government refused to recognize the legal implications of the ruling, and later amended the Hungarian constitution in an attempt to overturn the decision. In April 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that by stripping churches of their legal status, Hungary’s church law violated the right of religious freedom and was in breach of the European Convention. The ECtHR also ordered the Hungarian government to pay reparations to those churches which had brought their compliant to the Strasbourg court. A spokesman for the Hungarian government, in an early reaction to the decision, stated that Hungary has no obligation to adhere to rulings of the European Court. One of the religious communities present at today’s hearing, Pastor Iványi’s Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, not only had its legal status restored by Hungary’s Constitutional Court, but also was among the Hungarian churches which won their case in Strasbourg. When a member of the Committee of Justice pointed this out, the chairman of the committee, György Rubovszky, insisted that Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship had been deprived of its church status legally.