Hungary High Court Rules Against New Religion Restriction

Hungary’s Constitutional Court has ruled against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s proposal to require that new churches and religious organizations gain approval from Parliament.

The proposal is part of a new constitution passed by Orban’s regime after his election in April 2010. It would name 14 churches and synagogues as official Hungarian places of worship, while requiring any other religious groups to obtain approval from two-thirds of Parliament.

Orban passed a new constitution in July that will cause dramatic changes, including the change of Hungary’s name from the Republic of Hungary to Hungary, according to the U.S. State Department.

The new constitution also calls for a significant reduction in the amount of elected representatives and references Christianity as helping “preserve the nation.” Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority in Hungary, but many feel that Orban’s regime neglects the religious minorities.

Thirteen U.S. Congressmen sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s office stating that they “hope that Hungary will remain committed to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religion.”

They also voiced the fear that the new law “will inevitably result in discrimination against minority religious groups” and called for it to be re-examined.

Hungary has a wide variety of religious groups, including Roma, Jewish and Hare Krishna traditions. Members of Hare Krishna gathered in Budapest in protest of the new religious law, according to The Washington Post.

Bence Retvari, an official at the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, told the Associated Press: “Neither communities nor individuals are under any constraints in the practice of their religion in Hungary.”

He added, “The real objective of this law is to regularize the system of state subsidies and tax benefits, which was being abused. We did not want to alter Hungary’s varied religious life.”

The new constitution will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

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