By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary’s largest trade union of teachers, Pedagogusok Szakszervezete (PSZ), has turned to the Constitutional Court, asking for the new religion law to be annulled
Several church schools will soon be forced to close down, the union warned over the weekend. “The new religion law only recognizes 14 denominations as ‘churches’ who can receive state support,” the union said.
Under the ‘Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community’ only 14 in Hungary will be granted formal recognition to operate as churches in this country of some 10 million people.
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Over 300 other religious groups and their schools or other social organizations will no longer receive subsidies. It is possible to ask for registration, but parliament will have to approve the request.
The announced case came shortly before teachers and other employees were to demonstrate in front of the parliament building against social policies of the center right government.
ORBAN DEFENDS LAW
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s administration has said the religion law is aimed at preventing fraud at a time of economic crisis. Yet famous dissident who fought against communism have compared the measure with policies of the Sovier-era.
“In the 1970’s, when the Soviet Union ruled over Eastern Europe, we held vigils near religious sites that were closed or threatened to be destroyed,” they wrote in an open letter to the European Union.
“Never before has a member state of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state,” it said.
“Not only were these communities pushed into a pariah status overnight, but all of their social, health-care and educational services were stripped of their lawful subsidies.”
The letter’s 14 signatories included ex-Budapest mayor Gabor Demszky, the former media representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Miklos Haraszti, and the president of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee rights group Ferenc Koszeg.
SOME CHURCHES RECOGNIZED
The law, which will be enforced from January 1, recognizes Hungary’s predominant Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox denominations, as well as some Jewish groups.
Hundreds of other groups, including several evangelical churches, automatically lose their “registered” status as of January 1, 2012.
“It is unconscionable that any democratic country, particularly one that so recently freed itself from a Communist system in which all religious freedom was repressed, could pass such discriminatory legislation,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House rights group.
Hungary was earlier criticized because of a new constitution and media law that rights activists and others fear will undermine press freedom and previously independent institution.
“This [religion] law is only the latest disturbing example of the many serious setbacks in human rights and the rule of law that have occurred recently in Hungary,” former dissidents said in their EU letter.