The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and conscience as well as state neutrality on these issues. Freedom from religion, however, is granted only indirectly, through the freedom of conscience.
However, churches “recognised” by the state enjoy a wide range of privileges (financial and other), such as competing for 1% of income tax, and higher funding for social and educational services (these are funded 100% by the state in the case of churches, while non-religious NGOs receive ca 50% of the costs, if they don’t succeed in lobbying the ministry of education – as of 2013, the board who decides consists of a few civil servants and 2 NGO representatives – both devoted to churches), as well as exemption from taxes.
While between 1993 and 2011, any group of 100 persons could found a church and a simple registration process was needed to be included in these privileges, from January 2012, at least 20 years of national or 100 years of international existence are required, and at least 1000 persons have to sign the community’s petition. The president of the Academy of Sciences has to give an opinion whether the organisation qualifies as “religious” in terms described by the law. The status is not a right but a privilege that can be granted or refused to the community by the parliament. A two-third majority is needed for the decision.
In 2010, 187 religious communities were registered and tax payers may offer them 1% of their income tax (there is a secular alternative), while the church law effective from 2012 grants the status of ‘church’ to 14 Christian and Jewish communities (other communities have to reapply for the church status), which was increased since then to 32.
Until WWII, religious leaders sat in the Upper House of Parliament, but this institution was not re-established after the fall of communism. Churches nowadays influence politics through lobbying and the media.
Most church property was taken away by the state around 1948. After 1989 the churches could decide which buildings they wanted to have back (however, they had to put them to educational, social or religious use, i.e. use them for non profit purposes). For the rest, they receive an annuity of 16 milliard forints. (Private persons got back only arable land, but no refunding for houses they may have owned.)
Funding: Churches are financed by the state. The Vatican Treaty signed in 1997 (by the socialist government of Gyula Horn) regulates what funds are to be provided by the state, and in order to treat all religious denominations equally, these terms are extended to all religions (but not to secular foundations).
Churches receive state funds on a wide range of grounds and they also may apply for additional funds provided through EU and national funding programmes. As of 2012-2013, a couple of thousand million forints are allocated to churches by the government every now and then in addition to the annual budget (see the “funding” tag). They receive payments for church services (funerals, weddings) and donations. Churches also directly collect money from their adherents. They enjoy exemption from value added taxes and various other taxes, and they are not subject to the rules applying to bookkeeping for their religious activities. There are no public data on their total income and expenditure I know of. Therefore it is quite hard to tell how much funds the churches have at their disposal. The data below are based on the law closing the 2008 budget (‘2008. évi zárszámadás’), and I have looked only into the figures of the ministry for education and culture, where I suppose most funds are to be found. So the data below are far from comprehensive!
– Schools: church schools receive all the funding provided for state schools maintained by local governments. As local governments usually provide additional funds for their schools (if their budget allows them to do so), the central government pays an additional contribution to churches’ schools based on the average contribution given by local governments per pupil. As this figure is hard to calculate, churches feel they don’t get enough, and conflicts are regular. However, such additional funds are not provided for schools maintained by NGOs at all. This addition was roughly 24 milliard (billion, i.e. 24 000 000 000) forint in 2008.
– The same goes for social institutions such as homes for elderly or disabled people. Here, the additional funds were 8,1 milliard (billion) forint.
The other items are less complicated.
– Theology curricula in church colleges and universities: 2,648 milliard.
– Non-theology curricula in church institutions: 5,826 milliard.
– Public Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Hungary: 68,5 million
– Renovation programme of church higher education buildings: 90 million
– Renovations, investments connected with churches: 162,6 million
– Church libraries, archives, museums, etc.: 325 million
– Religious education classes in schools: 3,307 milliard
– 1% of income tax offered and any top-up by the state (according to the Vatican treaty): 11,862 milliard
– Annual payments for buildings not handed back to churches: 9,308 milliard
– Additional contribution to the salary of priests working in small villages: 1,620 milliard
– Reconstruction of church cultural heritage: 359 million.
– Cultural and educational contribution for churches: 50 million.
– For settling property issues still not settled: 9,008 milliard.
In addition, churches are exempt from paying a wide range of taxes.