Church-state relations

The year 1989 was a historical milestone for the states of Eastern Europe: totalitarian communist regimes collapsed and the era of democracy dawned. In the new political situation, relations between church and state inevitably underwent profound changes. Since then, people have been free to practice their religion as long as it does not violate the constitution. Hungary being a secular state operates on the basic principle of complete separation of state and church as well as the neutrality of the state in matters of religion. In conformity with the Fundamental Law of Hungary, "the state and churches shall be separate. Churches shall be autonomous. The state shall cooperate with the churches for community goals. Relations of the Hungarian State and churches are regulated by the Church Act." (Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community passed on 14 July, was modified in December 2011, concordats signed with individual churches and was amended 27 February 2012) 

The above-mentioned principles, do not exclude the cooperation between the state and the churches. The legal separation of state and church does not mean separation of church and society. Churches in Hungary are looked upon as important vehicles of society, especially in terms of education, social politics and healthcare. Regardless, the principle of separation has a wide range of interpretation within Europe. In some countries the status of a state church still exists, in others there is church tax system, again in others church buildings are owned and maintained by the state. In Hungary, the cooperation is focused on public services (education, social services and healthcare) and some other fields, like army chaplaincy, etc. For providing public services through church owned institutions, the churches are entitled to per capita state support.

Another way of supporting non-institutional social ministries is the 1% tax system. Taxpayers are granted the right to designate 1% of their tax to be transferred, in the year following the tax year, to a designated, state-recognized beneficiary.

The following article gives an insight into the reactions of the Reformed Church in Hungary to the new Church Act:

In February 2013, the Hungarian Constitutional Court ruled that certain provisions of the Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities were unconstitutional. The Court determined it was a constitutional requirement that the state provide a fair process regarding the acquisition of church status, including the right to appeal in accordance with the freedom of religion principle. According to the Court, the Church Act did not address the requirement of justification for the proposal of church recognition or for the decision of refusal. There was also no time limit for Parliament's decision and no right to appeal for the churches. Furthermore, it determined that placing the decision-making solely on the Parliament was in direct contradiction to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, on 11 February 2013 Parliament voted and approved a Constitutional Amendment, which was signed into law by Hungarian President János Áder. The decision overturned earlier Constitutional Court rulings and limited the Court's ability to challenge future Parliament decisions. Among the various areas that the amendment addresses is the Court's previous ruling regarding the Church Act. Now, it has been written into the Constitution that the Parliament alone is allowed to grant religious status to a religious community; a provision the Constitutional Court previously ruled unconstitutional.

This is the current status of the Church Act, but updates will be added as the situation progresses.

Article VII of the Fundamental Law of Hungary:

(1) Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to choose or change religion or any other persuasion, and the freedom for every person to proclaim, refrain from proclaiming, profess or teach his or her religion or any other persuasion by performing religious acts, ceremonies or in any other way, whether individually or jointly with others, in the public domain or in his or her private life. (2) The State and Churches shall be separate. Churches shall be autonomous. The State shall cooperate with the Churches for community goals. (3) The detailed rules for Churches shall be regulated by a cardinal Act.

"The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforces those protections. The constitution provides for the free choice or acceptance of a religion or other conscientious convictions, the freedom to practice or abstain from practicing, and the right to exercise or teach one's religion and beliefs in public or in private, either individually or with others, through religious acts and ceremonies or in other ways.

On April 18, the Parliament adopted a new Fundamental Law, which replaces the previous constitution, effective January 1, 2012. The Fundamental Law provides for the freedom of conscience and religion. These rights include the freedom to choose or change religion or any other persuasion, and the freedom for every person to proclaim, profess, or teach his or her religion in public or in private.

Both the constitution and the Fundamental Law separate church and state. The Fundamental Law stipulates that religious organizations shall be autonomous but the state shall cooperate with churches on community goals. Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom."

Excerpt from the 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom of the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, July 30, 2012.