Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hungary's Constitutional Court Invalidates Law On Status of Religious Communities

AP reports that on Tuesday, Hungary's Constitutional Court struck down the country's law on the Legal Status of Churches, Denominations and Religious Communities that was passed by the National Assembly (Hungary's parliament) at the end of December 2011 (see prior posting). The law recognized only 14 "traditional" religious faiths instead of the 300 that had previously been recognized.  Faiths not specified in the new law were permitted to apply to parliament for recognition if they had been operating in Hungary for at least 20 years. The law was designed to prevent groups that do not carry out religious activities from taking advantage of tax benefits and support granted to churches.

In this week's decision (full text in Hungarian), the Constitutional Court struck down the law because parliamentary decisions on recognition cannot be appealed, no written justification for refusing recognition is called for, and the process lends itself to political influence. However this invalidation may be short-lived. The government coalition led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party is proposing amendments to Hungary's 2011 Basic Law, the country's constitution.  One of these would explicitly permit the National Assembly to decide which churches are to be officially recognized.  Also many of the groups denied recognition under the 2011 law have by now disappeared or converted themselves into associations.