Religious freedom in the Hungarian constitution
January 14, 2012
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Since they won the elections in 2010, the governing party, Fidesz has received much criticism for destroying the checks and balances of the Hungarian political system, including the media. Also the new constitution (called ‘basic law’ on the request of the far right Jobbik) has been widely criticised, but mostly for its regulations regarding state institutions. In my post, I will stick to the question of religious freedom.
20 years ago, the new Hungarian democracy tried to secure the rights f the political minorities by ruling that certain important rules, including the constitution, can be modified only by a two-third majority. As the voting system (a combination of lists and territorial mandates) favours the winners, the 53% of votes for Fidesz, securing them 2/3s of the seats in the Parliament practically gave the carte blanche.
The constitution’s text actually starts with violating religious freedom: its preamble is called ‘national credo’ (the word ‘hitvallás’ means in fact ‘statement of faith’ and is used in religious contexts), and both desecrates the notion of ‘credo’ and excludes non-believers. Several statements (relating to the importance of Christianity and leaving out any other sources) violate the freedom of conscience (and, actually, scientific freedom, as it gives an interpretation of certain historical events that cannot be questioned), especially the one stating that “the most important frames of our social life are the family and the nation, and the basic values of our community are fidelity, faith and love.”
Religious freedom is guaranteed in article VII. Pont (1). The text was taken form the old constitution and shares its weak point: while the freedom to religion and conscience is granted, the freedom from religion is secured only indirectly, through the freedom to conscience. The text grants the right not to participate in one’s own religion’s acts (the wording is not the best), but if you stick to the words, the only way you can opt out of a compulsory religious service is by proving that attending is against your conscience.
Also, the right not to tell your religious affiliation is not granted here, but in the part about privacy and data protection: data regarding one’s religion, sexual orientation, etc. can be kept on record only with the approval of the person.
Freedom rights (of which religious freedom is only one special case) are guaranteed in art. I. point (1), which also stresses that the protection of basic human rights is the state’s most important duty. However, the basic rights may be limited if this is necessary to protect an other basic right or ‘a constitutional [sic! – they forgot to change that] value’. Now, if faith is a constitutional value (in Hungarian, ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are the same word, ‘hit’) as stipulated in the preamble, religious freedom may be constitutionally limited to freedom to religion.
The final blow not only to religious freedom but to any right is paragraph 3 of article R (first chapter), which draws an absolute limit to any freedom right, when it states that any regulation of the constitution ‘must be interpreted in accordance with the National Credo and our historical constitution [the reference of the latter is unclear, it may practically refer to any historical legal document].
The text of the constitution (in Hungarian): http://jogszabalykereso.mhk.hu/cgi_bin/njt_doc.cgi?docid=137076.221387&kif=alapt%C3%B6rv%C3%A9ny*#xcel