An open letter to leaders of the recognized churches of Hungary, written by members of the erstwhile anti-communist dissident movement - 29 February 2012 Budapest

Before the change of regime in 1989,  members of the democratic opposition movement, believers and non-believers alike, when raising their voices against human rights violations by the communist authorities, stood firmly by the religious communities that were restricted in practicing their beliefs on political grounds. By contrast, the leaders of churches recognized by the communist state kept silent, possibly under pressure to do so.

Just  as in the communist times, the new church law, which will take effect  on March 1 this year,  will exclude from church status a good hundred congregations and impose tight restrictions on their religious rights, all the while humiliating their believers, destroying their schools, and depriving the  needy of the services provided by their charities.

Today, too, we speak out against this arbitrary, overtly political discrimination. Our protest would be unnecessary if the recognized churches were not, similar to the past,  remaining silent.

May we ask, therefore, the leaders of churches granted privileges by the new law to regard it as their obligation to stand by those whom this new law will turn into religious outlaws? May we request that they find a platform, based on religious, legal, human rights, humanitarian or any other foundation, to protest against political discrimination? How can they teach their congregations in good conscience when they themselves abandon moral responsibility for worldly calculations?

Surely they are not misled by the clause in the Fundamental Law of Hungary which professes religious freedom for all. This guarantee is as false as it was in the communist constitution, since then, too, it was the ruling party that decided which churches were to be recognized. And, just as today, there existed no legal remedy to change the decision of the party.

Among the many churches that are discriminated against are the Methodist, Charismatic, Evangelical, Adventist, Reform Jewish, and Buddhist. The best example  of  this arbitrariness sanctified by law is the predicament of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship.

Similar to other outlawed churches, the Fellowship maintains an educational and charity network. Having established a theological college even before 1989, it  assists thousands of children, homeless and elderly people who live in abject poverty.

Its leading pastor, Gábor Iványi, already served his congregation in the face of persecution by the communist authorities. Incidentally, the first children of the present prime minister were baptized by Gábor Iványi, and it was he who was asked to speak at the funeral of the father of László Kövér, the current Speaker of the House.

The question arises: Is it still necessary for church leaders to pander to the whims of those in power? Why do they tacitly accept that Gábor Iványi has become persona non grata and his church deprived of its rights simply because he opposes the  criminalization of the homeless in the streets and, in defense of human rights, speaks out against any form of social injustice and inhuman treatment?

We sincerely hope that the leaders of recognized churches are aware that this clearly anti-constitutional new law will be too short-lived to favor them in the long term. Otherwise, it will push them into the same dependence that they suffered from so severely before 1989.  

Attila Ara-Kovács, journalist, former diplomat

György Dalos, writer

Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest

Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Róza Hodosán, former MP

János Kenedi, historian

György Konrád, writer

Ferenc Kőszeg, founding President of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education

Imre Mécs, former MP

Sándor Radnóti, philosopher

László Rajk, architect

Sándor Szilágyi, writer on photography

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