Washington, DC, August 11 (MTI) – Hungary’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion and separates church and state, the US State Department said in its 2015 international religious freedom report.
The report published on Wednesday said the constitution stipulates that “religious communities” are independent legal entities but says that the state may cooperate with them on community goals. It noted that religious organisations can be given church status with the approval of a two-thirds majority of parliament and that this status provides tax benefits and government support.
Hungary’s church law which entered into force in 2012 and stripped more than 350 religious organisations of their church status has remained in effect despite multiple critical Constitutional Court rulings, the report said. It also noted that in 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the church law “violated the right to freedom of association”.
Parliament failed to amend the provisions deemed unconstitutional by the Oct. 15 deadline set by the top court, the report said.
Six of the sixteen deregistered churches that had filed complaints with the ECtHR reached a full and three a partial agreement with the government on their compensation claims, but the remaining groups went back to the Strasbourg court. Earlier the court had urged the government to come to an agreement with those groups by May 15 but parliament failed to vote on the remaining 12 applications for church status by the end of the year. Earlier the human resources ministry had found all 12 religious organisations eligible for church status, the report noted.
The government provided 52 billion forints (EUR 167.6m) in support for registered churches and 109 million forints for other religious organisations, the report said. Fully 90 percent of government support went to Hungary’s historical churches: the Roman Catholic Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Jewish community, and minority religious groups had limited access to funding, the report said.
The report said that the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) “registered six incidents of public expression of anti-Semitism by political party representatives and national or local government officials during the first six months of the year”. Two of these expressions came from Fidesz politicians and four came from members of the radical nationalist Jobbik party. In March, Jobbik councillor Tibor Ágoston was ordered to pay a fine of 750,000 forints for Holocaust denial, it added.
Over the course of the year courts convicted one individual for inciting hatred and a further 59 people for inciting violence against members of religious, ethnic, racial, or other societal groups. Anti-Semitic hate crimes included physical and verbal attacks, Holocaust denial, revisionism and vandalising Jewish cemeteries, the report said.
The government had declared “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism” and assumed the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the State Department noted.
The report said that the escalation of the migrant crisis brought with it a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in Hungary. It said that in February, the government “launched a comprehensive public relations campaign against migrants and asylum seekers” and put up anti-immigration billboards across the country before launching a national questionnaire on immigration and terrorism. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern that the questionnaire “promoted hostility toward migrants”, the report said. Hungary’s Muslim community reported multiple physical and verbal attacks and threats including 10-15 incidents of assault against Muslim women wearing hijabs. Muslim leaders said the hostility towards their community stemmed from the anti-Muslim rhetoric voiced by government officials, Christian Church officials and certain media outlets, the report added.
Commenting on the report, government spokesman Zoltán Kovács told MTI on Thursday that the government had been unable to change the church law because of a lack of support from the opposition. Kovacs welcomed the US report’s statement that Hungary has freedom of religion, which he said was something “undeniable”, but noted that there was an “irreconcilable difference” between the US and Hungarian governments on migration issues. The US is interested in seeing as many migrants as possible in Europe while Hungary wants to stop illegal migration and force the EU to change its migration policies, he said.