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David Baer Continues Advocacy For Religious Freedom in Hungary

October 22, 2015

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As a philosophy and theology professor with a personal connection to Hungary, David Baer has become one of the leading experts on the country. Specifically examining religious freedom and a 2012 law that stripped most small religious communities of their legal status, he recently attended the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) conference in Warsaw, Poland—an annual event addressing a wide range of human rights concerns.

As part of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF), Baer spoke about persistent difficulties with Hungary’s church law, including the government’s latest draft.

“Since the law was passed, not much has changed; however, the European Court of Human Rights has said the law is in violation of international European law,” said Baer. “Now, Hungary must address this. While they have been negotiating with churches, it has been and continues to be very slow.”

While the latest draft of the law submitted by the Hungarian government reads better, Baer said it still doesn’t fix or even address major problems. FOREF presented on why the amended church law remains at variance with OSCE standards and the European Convention on Human Rights. The group called on the Hungarian government to

  • refrain from further changes to the legal status of religious communities except to remedy the violations of the right of religious freedom arising from the deregistration of churches in 2011;
  • to extend legal privileges to churches on the basis of objective criteria alone, and not on the basis of indeterminate discretionary prerogatives claimed by the State or Parliament;
  • to treat all religious communities equally in matters pertaining to religious practice;
  • to rewrite the proposed amendments to Act CCVI of 2011 to harmonize with Helsinki standards, international human rights law, and the ruling of the ECtHR in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and others v. Hungary.

Although the Hungarian government has made some concessions and there has been some discussion among the press, the process remains sluggish.

“It’s like chipping away at the issue,” Baer said. “I think the government might keep tinkering with the law, or even back down a bit, if we keep harping.”

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