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Constitutional Court strikes down Church Law

March 5th, 2013

A pro-government columnist welcomes the Constitutional Court’s decision to strike down the controversial Church Law on formal grounds. He notes, however, that the Court has acknowledged that the government has the right to determine which religious denominations can earn official status as churches, and by implication become eligible for public subsidies in their non-spiritual activities.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the Church Law adopted by Parliament in 2011 contradicts basic constitutional principles. According to the verdict, the government does have the right to set out the eligibility criteria to be met by religious denominations to be recognized as churches and thus become eligible for state funding. The Court also found, however, that the Church Law did not guarantee fair legal redress. It also expressed concern over possible political bias if the decision is made by parliament. János Lázár, head of the PM’s office said after the ruling that the ‘Constitutional Court is starting to lose its sense of reality.’ The latest amendment to the Basic Law gives Parliament the right to decide which denominations should be recognized as churches.

Hours before the adoption of the latest amendment to the Basic Law, writing in Magyar Nemzet, Miklós Ugró welcomes the Court’s decision, while pointing out that the main idea behind the Church Law was not found to be unconstitutional. On the contrary, the ruling acknowledges that the government has the right to determine the eligibility criteria set out for religious denominations to apply for official church status, the pro-government commentator notes. He finds it reasonable and fair of the Court to demand stronger legal guarantees for appeal. If there is no possibility to turn to an independent court, religious denominations may be granted or denied official church status on political grounds, Ugró contends. This, he believes, has already happened in the case of the Evangelical Brotherhood Community (see BudaPost July 21, 2011). Ugró, however, is rather sceptical about whether Hungarian courts could be trusted with determining which religious denominations could be recognized as churches. The pro-government columnist suggests judges lack the necessary expertise. Experts in this field are rarely independent from political parties, and thus it is difficult to imagine who could be expected to take unbiased and impartial decisions on such a delicate matter, he concludes.

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