Religious Freedom Issues in Hungary

By Schanda, Balazs | Brigham Young University Law Review, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Religious Freedom Issues in Hungary

Schanda, Balazs, Brigham Young University Law Review


This paper discusses fundamental principles of church-state relations in Hungary. Part II of this article discusses freedom of religion in terms of the European Court of Human Rights and the Hungarian Constitution while Part III focuses on nondiscrimination on the grounds of religion in a wide variety of contexts, including the restitution of previously owned real estate to churches, army and penitentiary chaplaincies, media law, government funding, and secular laws. Part IV of this article compares the rights of parents and children with regard to religious issues under both international and Hungarian law. In Part V, this article considers recent proposals to change the law with regard to registered churches in Hungary, and Part VI discusses recent findings of the Hungarian Tax Audit Office and Reports of the Office of National Security. Part VII suggests that neutrality of the state is the underlying doctrine behind the principle of separation of church and state, and, finally Part VIII concludes that although churches are entitled to equal treatment in Hungary, factual and social differences between churches may lead to constitutionally acceptable differences in the treatment churches receive.


Article 1 of the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief ("1981 Declaration")1 follows the wording of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights IMAGE FORMULA5("ICCPR")2 in acknowledging the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.3 In Hungary, no cases involving the issue of free manifestation of religion have been argued. The accommodation of religious freedom issues in Hungary is done on a highly individual level; it is not the affiliation of an individual to a specific religious community that matters, but rather the invocation of an individual's conscientious conviction.

None of the cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights regarding the free manifestation of religion could have happened in a Hungarian jurisdiction. In Hungary, there is no restriction on proselytism as part of the free manifestation of religious beliefs;4 the opening of places of worship does not require special permission or a license;5 legal status is easily accessible for religious entities;6 and religious entities, if registered as such, generally enjoy IMAGE FORMULA7autonomy.7 The general approach to the freedom of speech in Hungary is very liberal:8 no religious form of oath is compulsory,9 accommodation of religious claims is done on the individual level, and the general practice does not show serious problems.10

The Hungarian Constitution does not limit fundamental rights on the basis of public safety, order, health, or morals but states that laws must not limit the essential content or meaning of fundamental rights.11 Rights other than the right to life in dignity12 can be restricted by laws, but restrictions are only permissible for the safeguarding of another fundamental right or constitutional value, and the restriction must not be disproportionate to the intended purpose.


Although the principle of nondiscrimination is fundamental to the Hungarian Constitution and the equality of individuals belonging to different faith communities has not been challenged, the equal rights of religious communities is, to some extent, a disputed issue in Hungary.

A. Historical Aspects Concerning the Legal Equality of Religious Communities

During the course of the seventeenth century, the Protestant nobility achieved considerable freedom in Hungary. However, due to the re-Catholizing efforts of the Habsburg kings, this freedom IMAGE FORMULA10was gradually curtailed.

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