The new law, which reduced the number of recognized churches from over 300 to 14, has been a controversial issue among different Christian and non-Christian denominations in Hungary and is raising concerns among human rights and pro-democratic organizations
The new law on religion, passed earlier this month and drastically reducing the number of officially recognized religions, has created a split among various Christian denominations with larger communities welcoming the regulation and smaller groups voicing fears for their future, reported Ecumenical News Service International.
"We're very much for freedom of worship and believe everyone should have the right to practice their religion. But this law represents a positive step, since it excludes quite a few communities here which don't legitimately qualify as churches," said Zoltan Tarr, general secretary of the Hungarian Reformed Church, which claims around a fifth of the country's 9.9 million inhabitants as members.
Similarly, the Calvinist pastor supported the new legislature, arguing that the country's existing 1990 Act on Churches had been "too liberal," adding that all religious communities had been given a chance to study the new law before its submission to Hungary's National Assembly. Bishop Imre Sibiu, the Lutheran chairman of Hungary's Ecumenical Council of Churches, which groups 10 denominations and 18 associated associations, also expressed his acceptance of the law.
The leader of Hungary's smaller Church of God disagrees. According to him the law's final text had been "very different" from the version shown to faith groups during a May consultation. "I don't think anyone will come and tell us we can't worship God," said Laszlo Debreceni, whose church claims to have been in Hungary since 1907 but was stripped of recognition under the new law. "But it will raise serious issues that some churches are now on the approved list and others not."
Hungarian Unitarian Church is similarly disappointed. According to its president, Botond Elekes, "we were founded during the Reformation and we consider ourselves the only native Hungarian denomination, so we certainly have a historic background here."
Controversies bubble up among various human rights and pro-democratic organizations. Hungary's Civil Liberties Union and Helsinki Committee have petitioned the parliament, describing the law as a "serious setback for religious freedom in Hungary." The document was co-signed by Human Rights Without Frontiers, the Southern Baptist Convention and other organizations.