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List of recognized churches to be expanded in Hungary, says state secretary

Hungary’s new church law does not restrict religious freedoms but rather regulates state support for religious communities, the state secretary of the ministry of public administration and justice said on Tuesday, reports.

Bence Rétvári said at a Washington-Budapest teleconference organised by Johns Hopkins University that around half of the 300 registered churches in Hungary had not practised religious activities and many of them could not be found at their registered address. Retvari noted, however, that the list of recognised churches would be extended from the current 14.

Freedom House director of advocacy Paula Schriefer told the forum that the new law grants privileges to recognised churches to the detriment of other religious communities. It stipulates a registration process in parliament, a politicised process which involves fulfilling many conditions, she added. Schriefer said the law should either be scrapped or amended. She noted that in the American model, besides tax breaks, the state was not allowed to contribute any kind of subsidy for the activities of churches. Schriefer conceded that the Hungarian church law did not restrict the freedom to practise a religion, and neither did it persecute communities which had not received church status, but she added her opinion that Hungary’s law ran contrary to European norms.

Rétvári said that in relation to the church laws of several EU member states, Hungary’s practices were neither restrictive, nor did they grant privileges. He noted that the last census showed that 98.9% of believers belonged to either one of the 14 recognised churches. He noted that both the current Constitution and the new one to be enforced on January 1 next year ensured the separation of the activities of church and state.

Lászlo Gonda, a Reformed Church priest and advisor to Hungary’s foreign ministry said that civil groups were able to pursue religious activity, and they were also eligible to receive state support for activities deemed to be for the sake of the community.