The U.S. State Department joined European Union leaders this week in cautioning Hungarian lawmakers to tread carefully on controversial amendments to their nation’s constitution. “These amendments deserve closer scrutiny and more deliberate consideration,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “They could threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance.” Recent years saw harsh criticism leveled by the EU toward Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party for pushing through a series of judicial, media, banking and religious laws. Many in Western Europe and the U.S. saw the laws as a sign that the nation was backpedaling on democratic advances it had made since emerging from communism two decades ago. Among the more contested moves was a measure that significantly cut the number of churches that could receive support or recognition from the Hungarian government. The development prompted concern across much of Europe among religious groups. A spokesman for the Hungarian government dismissed such concerns during an interview with The Washington Times last June, claiming that the international community was overreacting and that Budapest had unfairly become a “whipping boy” of the Western media.