Hungarian Church Law Is Deemed Unconstitutional

The latest decision of the Constitutional Court (CC) was established partly due to the constitutional complaints submitted by the HCLU. The decision states that the main provisions of the Church Law, which came into effect last year, are in serious violation of fundamental rights and the principles of the rule of law. This decision, however, is not expected to remedy the harm suffered by the denominations concerned, because the Fundamental Law of Hungary is proposed to amend with the annulled provisions by the Parliament.

The CC held several points of the act on religious communities, churches and their rights – effective as of January 1st, 2012 – to be unconstitutional and annulled the regulation. Among others, the CC examined the HCLU’s constitutional complaint submitted on behalf of nine churches. The HCLU welcomes the Court’s decision, as the Church Law, which came into effect one day after its promulgation, deprived more than 300 churches of their legal status, subjected their recognition as churches to discriminative conditions and broke the century-old principle of the separation of Church and State.

According to the HCLU, the most important element of the decision is that it reinstates the procedure of the recognition of churches to the courts, instead of the legislative body. The recognition of churches by the Parliament was arbitrary, depended on the political will of the governing parties and lacked due process and the right of appeal, since the Parliament was not obligated to justify its decision and there was no legal remedy available against this decision. The HCLU’s position – in opposition of the Constitutional Court’s reasoning – is that only a procedure before the court can be constitutional, where the examination of the teachings, the tradition and the history of the religious community is excluded, and where the negative decisions may be challenged.

The HCLU welcomes the fact that the CC retroactively banned the application of the unconstitutional provisions. In this situation, a government, which respects the requirements of the rule of law, should do everything in order to remedy the financial and moral damage caused by the unconstitutional provisions, and not only in the case of those churches which have turned to the CC, but also those which have not chosen that option.

However, it cannot be ignored that the time elapsed preserved the undue conditions irreversibly, since the Church Law came into effect more than a year ago. Churches, deprived of their legal status, were forced to transform into a civil association or to cease their activity as a church; hence the implementation of the CC’s decision would need further legislative intervention. The HCLU would also like to remind that the Parliament, instead of creating legislation that ensures freedom of religion and religious equality, is about to bring back the currently annulled regime of recognition by amending the Fundamental Law for the fourth time.

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