Secular Hungary

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EU-Funds for Green Energy: Only For Churches

While an earlier programme for increasing the use of green energy was so successful that the money was enough only for applicants from the state sector, and most applicants found themselves on a waiting list, they won’t get anything of the additional funds made available for this programme. According to the online newsportal Origo, The National Development Agency, which is managing EU funds in Hungary, plans to retroactively change the conditions for applying, so instead of NGOs and SMEs who already have invested their time and money in writing a project only green energy projects by churches will be eligible for funding.


Church law reloaded


According to data received from the state secretary of education, more than 80 state schools and kindergartens will be handed over to churches from 1 September, while at present there are according to the left-wing daily Népszava, 557 kindergartens and schools are operated by churches (but financed by the state). Over 50 of the 83-88 institutions will go to the Catholic Church.
The Teachers’ Union turned to the Constitutional Court already a year ago, when the government decided to make it financially more attractive for local governments to get rid of their schools: government schools receive half of their funding directly from the state, while the other half has to be provided for by the local government. Earlier, the local government had to continue funding schools handed over to churches for another five years (i.e. until after the next elections), while since last year, they are relieved from paying immediately, the central budget providing 100% of the funds needed for running sectarian schools. However, the Constitutional Court has not yet dealt with the issue, while in some places, no non-sectarian school will be available from September. Népszava knows of 19 such towns and villages.
According to the Teachers’ Union, a fresh bill has made it possible that local gorernments may hand over schools even int he middle of the school year if they claim they don’t have enough funds to operate them.
In the schools given to the churches, teacher will loose their status as state employees, and the Teachers’ Union is not allowed to operate in them.
Sectarian schools usually prefer children from well off homes; while 32% of children in state schools are from disadvantaged or highly disadvantaged backgrounds, their ratio in sectarian schools is 18% (the ratio is worse for highly disadvantaged pupils, who make up for 13% of state school attendees but only for 4% in sectarian schools). There are some sectarian schools especiall for the underpivileged, but ironically one of the religious communities running them, the Dhai Bhim will probably be stripped of their church status by the new church law.

Who will remain?

Meanwhile I’ve checked the tax office’s list on 1% offerings – taypayers can donate 1% of their personal income tax to a charity, and another 1% to a church, or alternatively, to a secular cause offered by the state (for 2009 that was eradication of ambrosia, a highly allergen plant, and a programme to support especially talented kids).
This list includes of course taxpayers only (i.e. people who have a legal income and pay at least minimal taxes), so it does not include for example retired people who have no other income than their retirement benefits. But it still gives a clue about how many adherents churches have.
At present, one needs 100 members to found a church, and though the “statues” (main teachings etc.) have to be handed at registration, the state has no right to check them in any way.
The tax office lists 185 churches for 2009, the biggest one being the catholics, with 534 thousand people offering their 1% (45% of onepercents dedicated), and on the second place, lagging far behind, the reformed church with 186 thousand (20%). The third ‘big traditional’ church, the Lutherans has 49 thousand taxpaying members (4%). Another 3 make it over the 10000 adherents limit that Szászfalvi has suggested should be introduced: the baptists (1.3%), the Krishnas (1.1%) and a pentecostal church called Hit Gyülekezete (the Faith Church, 1.6%).
Of course as probably not only the taxpayers would count, some more churches will meet the criterion, such as the biggest Jewish and buddhist groups, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Overall, there are 25 churches that got more than 1000 donations, and only 15 of them have over 2000 income tax paying members who are devoted enough to fill out two lines on a form. Of these 25, 13 are Christian, 5 Buddhist, and 2 Jewish. Among the remaining, there are the Scientologists, the Jains (who are basically supporting an animal shelter called Noah’s Ark), the Krishnas, an esoteric church and another with the aim to reestablish giving birth as spiritual act (supposedly related to the fact that anyone who would like to give birth at home is considered crazy by the medical establishment). Of course some more churches can count on retaining their status as ‘established’, nemaly those who have been present ‘traditionally’. I can only guess about them, but I suppose Jewish and Christian orthodox groups (e.g. the Greek and Serb churches) will be among them, and the muslims will prbably argue that they are traditionally present in Hungary (after all, we had 150 years of Turkish rule, hadn’t we…).
The list also contains the total amount of 1%-s donated to the curches, so one can count the avarage personal income (or rather, about the income tax) of the members of one particlar church. Among the over 1000 sized churches, the biggest taxpayers are (reinforcing stereotypes) the Jews (the avarage 1% of the income tax is 5900 forint per taxpayer, while Jews’ 1% was 12509 forint for the biggest Jewish group and 10321 forint for the ‘Status quo ante’ group – the two groups separated in the 19th century over an argument on the relationship with the state).
The by faaar richest church members are Christians, however: the 84 members of the Korean Christians’ 1% amounted to 58385 forint per person, which is ten times the avarage income (no typo, the amount was similar last year).
Before I forget: 25% of taxpayers donating their 1% gave it to the secular causes. Their avarage income avarages the general avarage.
But: most taxpayers just don’t care. There are about 3.6 million taxpayers, of whom 24.8% are close enough to their church to donate it ca. 2 minutes to fill out the form (for the big denominations: 14.8% catholics, 5% protestant, 1.4% Lutherans, with the rest under 1%), and another 8.3% are dedicated enough to a quite impersonal secular cause (getting no media coverage) to offer their 1%. (Data corrected on 23/10/2010 23:32, after I’ve found the exact number of persons paying actually more than 0 forint taxes.)

The list:

Not more churches

Mr László Szászfalvi, state secretary of the Ministry for Public Adminsitration and Justice has outlined last weeks some plans to tighten the rules for establishing religious communities. Currently we have about 185 of them, and among others they have the right to compete with each other for 1% of the personal income tax.
It is rather easy to establish a church in Hungary at present: you need 100 members and you have to submit your statutes and main teachings – there is no testing if the community is a religious one, though it has happened that some requests for registration have been denied.
Mr Szászfalvi said in an interview that they plan to increase the number of members needed to 10.000. Meeting this criterion will pose some problems also for well established communities (such as ca. 150 followers of the byzantine rites present in Hungary since 1800 years or so), so they want to give an exemption for churches present in Hungary for a longer time, i.e. so-called “historical churches”. Some big foreign communities such as the mormons may also have to fight for their status.
Of course we do have ‘business churches’ (bizniszegyházak), i.e. pseudo-religious communities eatablished solely for financial reasons. But surely the most efficient way to stop them would be to just do away with their financial privileges and treating them as any other non profit assosiacion? – Anyway, the state secretary’s plans at least prove that churches do indeed enjoy privileges.
But then, as one of the critics mentioned, Christianity also started with only a dozen disciples.

No common fate

The Hungarian state budget will decrease by an average of 10% for the year 2010 due to the financial crisis. The minister of education and culture Mr István Hiller confirmed that budget cus will probably also affect the funds received by the churches from the state for their spiritual activities (social and educational services are funded separately), but he promised that these will be kept below the average rate. The churches are furious. — It seems they are not ready to take their share…

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