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Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

The preamble to the Hungarian constitution recognises the prominent place of Christianity in the history of the country, declaring: “We are proud that our king, Saint Stephen, built the Hungarian state on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe 1,000 years ago.”[1] Provisions on freedom of religion or belief in the 2011 constitution were amended in 2016. Article seven enshrines the principle of religious freedom, drawing on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[2] Article seven goes on to establish separation of church and state while underlining the value to both of cooperating on “common goals”.[3]

In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain and communism, Hungary adopted legislation guaranteeing the right of freedom of conscience and religion for all and prohibiting discrimination. In 2011 new legislation, called the “Church Act”,[4] deprived all but 14 of the previously legally registered religious communities and institutions of their legal status and put in place a new system to enable groups to regain legal status. To re-register, the applicants had to submit a document signed by a minimum of 1,000 individuals and to abide by several strict obligations. One condition was that it had to have been operating internationally for at least 100 years or in an organised manner as an association in Hungary for at least 20 years.[5] The next step towards re-accessing church status was a two-thirds majority vote in the Hungarian Parliament. In the meantime, however, the de-registered churches were given another opportunity to re-apply for church status, perhaps as a result of international pressure. Parliament voted on this second round of applications in February 2012, registering another 13 churches alongside the initial 14.[6]

By February 2012, Parliament had denied the re-registration applications of 67 previously registered Churches without providing a substantive explanation for their denials despite the groups fulfilling all the conditions of the “Church Act”. These included Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches, as well as Buddhist and Hindu groups. They were thereby deprived of the right to the 1 percent of income tax which taxpayers may donate to Church.[7]

The only way for the other deregistered religious communities and institutions to be legally registered was to apply for the status of civic association or non-profit association. However, they became second-rank associations losing tax exemptions, financial benefits and many of their rights, including maintaining schools and charitable organisations, running homeless shelters or owning agricultural lands.[8]

In February 2013, Hungary’s constitutional court ruled that the de-registration of formerly recognised churches was unconstitutional and that the National Assembly was therefore obligated to adopt legislation allowing taxpayers to donate one percent of their income tax to any religious organisation of their choosing. A deadline for the adoption of such legislation was 31st December 2017.[9] As of 1st May 2018, no such legislation had been enacted.

On 8th April 2014, the ECtHR ruled in the case of Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary, which was a pilot judgment used to address nine separate applications,[10] that Hungary’s “Church Act” violated Articles nine and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its judgment, the Court stated: “[…] the state has a duty to remain neutral and impartial in exercising its regulatory power in the sphere of religious freedom and in its relations with different religions, denominations and beliefs. Facts demonstrating a failure by the authorities to remain neutral in the exercise of their powers in this domain must lead to the conclusion that the state interfered with the believers’ freedom to manifest their religion within the meaning of article nine of the convention.”[11]

On this basis, the court ruled against the Hungarian Government, and in favour of the applicant religious denominations. It concluded that: “The court considers that there is a positive obligation incumbent on the state to put in place a system of recognition which facilitates the acquisition of legal personality by religious communities.”[12] However, at the time of writing, the “Church Act” had still not been amended in line with the ECtHR judgement.[13]


In spite of being in the news for a variety of public comments made in the run-up to the April 2018 general elections, there are were no incidents in Hungary involving religious freedom violations during the period under review. This followed research of both national and international records and consultation with human rights advocacy groups, including the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Foundation for Action and Protection, and the Helsinki Committee.

In July 2017, the Jewish community criticised Mr Orbán’s billboard campaign targeting Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor George Soros for using depictions identified with anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda.[14]

In response to the Holocaust movie Son of Saul, Előd Novák, an MP and Vice President of Jobbik, a far-right party, decried the so-called “Holocaust Industry” in a Facebook post dated 11th January 2017. He was then forced to resign his seat in Parliament on 31st August 2017 but retained his Jobbik membership.[15] Jobbik has long been associated with anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim propaganda.

During the parliamentary election campaign, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed in February 2018 that Germany and Western Europe were being overtaken by Muslims and that Christianity was Europe’s last hope.[16]

In an interview published in the German magazine Bild on 7th January 2018, Mr Orbán called asylum seekers and refugees “Muslim invaders” while defending his Government’s decision to bar their entry and contest the EU sanctioned quotas.[17]

In 2017 László Toroczkai, Mayor of Asotthalom and Jobbik member, told the BBC: “…we are a white, European Christian nation; we want to stay … like this.” He went on to state that Muslims and gays were not welcome.[18] That year, an 8-metre banner was suspended across the entrance to the Buda Tunnel that read “Islamisation kills”.[19]

Prospects for Freedom of Religion

The “Church Act” adopted in 2011 will remain a source of discrimination as long as it is not amended along the lines of the ECtHR judgement in the case Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary. The two-thirds majority Parliamentary win by the incumbent party in the 8th April 2018 elections is likely to prolong the status quo.

Despite media claims that the country is a hotbed of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment, there were no known physical acts of religious hatred. It demonstrates that there is a high level of tolerance and trust in society and that people are largely impervious to propaganda of this kind.

Sources / Endnotes

[1] Parliament of Hungary, ‘Constitution of Hungary 2011 (rev. 2016)’, Constitute Project, 2016,, (accessed 4th April 2018), art. VII.

[2] “Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18”, Berkley Center,–3 (accessed 8th  June 2018)

[3] Parliament of Hungary, Op cit., Article 7 (4).

[4] E. Schlager, Minority faiths under the Hungarian religion law, U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 8th June 2017,, (accessed 4th April 2018).

[5] Parliament of Hungary, Act CCVI of 2011 on the right to freedom of conscience and religion and the legal status of churches, denominations and religious communities, Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, 27th February 2012,, (accessed 4th April 2018), sec. 14 (1) and (2).

[6] Baer, David H, ‘Report on Hungary’s Deregistered Churches’, George Fox University, Occassional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe, Volume 32, Issue 4, Article 7. November 2011. (accessed 15th April 2018) ; Baer, David. ‘Two Open Letters from Hungary’, George Fox University, Occassional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe, Volume 32, Issue 2, Article 2. May 2012. (accessed 15th April 2018).

[7] John Fox University, Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe, Volume 32/ Issue 4, November 2012. ‘Report on Hungary’s Deregistered Churches’, by H. David Baer, Texan Lutheran University. (accessed 15th April 2018)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Forum for Religious Freedom Europe, ‘Hungary: Two years after ruling by ECtHR Church Law Remains Unaltered’, OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, HDIM.NGO/0284/16/EN, 27th September 2016. (accessed 4th April 2018).

[10] ‘Pilot judgments’ are a procedure first used in 2004 in which multiple similar applications are addressed by a single, overarching judgment, thus allowing the Court to handle a larger case load more quickly.

[11] European Court of Human Rights, ‘Case of Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary (applications nos. 70945/11, 23611/12, 26998/12, 41150/12, 41155/12, 41463/12, 41553/12, 54977/12 and 56581/12)’, 8th April 2014,, (accessed 4th April 2018), para. 76.

[12] Para. 90, Ibid.

[13] Forum for Religious Freedom Europe, ‘Hungary: Two years after ruling by ECtHR Church Law remains unaltered’, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [online PDF], 27th September 2016,, (accessed 4th April 2018).

[14] M. Dunai, ‘Hungarian Jews ask PM Orban to end ‘bad dream’ of Anti-Semitism’, Reuters [online news article], 6th July 2017,, (accessed 4th April 2018).

[15] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2016 International Religious Freedom Report – Hungary, U.S. Department of State, 2017,, (accessed 4th April 2018), pg. 10.

[16] D. Hussain, ‘‘Christianity is Europe’s last hope’ says Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister as he calls for renewed crackdown on migration that ‘advances Islam’’, Daily Mail Online [online news article], 18th February 2018,, (accessed 4th April 2018).

[17] H. Agerholm, ‘Refugees are ‘Muslim invaders’ not running for their lives, says Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’, The Independent [online news article], 9th January 2018,, (accessed 4th April 2018).

[18] M. Bulman, ‘Hungarian mayor seeks to ban Muslims and gay people from his village’, The Independent [online news article], 7th February 2017,, (accessed 4th April 2018).

[19] Z. Sereghy, ‘Islamophobia in Hungary – National report 2017’, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) [online pdf], 2018,, (accessed 9th April 2018), pg. 319.

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