International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. There is no state religion; however, the four "historic churches" and certain other denominations enjoy some privileges not available to other faiths.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 35,910 square miles, and its population is an estimated 10 million.

Strict enforcement of data protection regulations impedes the collection of official statistics on popular participation in religious life. However, independent surveys in 1996 and 1997 indicated that the population is not particularly devout. Only 15 percent of those surveyed considered themselves to be religiously active and closely followed the tenets of their church. The majority, 55 percent, said that they practiced religion in their own way or were nominally religious but not regularly active in their church. Approximately 30 percent said that they were nonreligious. The results of the latest census, in which there was an optional question on church affiliation, are expected to be available in July 2002.

According to traditional estimates, 68 percent of citizens are Catholic, 21 percent are members of the Reformed Church, 4 percent are members of the Lutheran Church, and less than 1 percent are followers of Judaism. These four are considered the country's historic churches. The remaining 7 percent of the population are divided between all other denominations. Largest among these is the Congregation of Faith, a Hungarian evangelical Christian movement. Other denominations include a broad range of Christian groups, including five Orthodox denominations. In addition, there are seven Buddhist denominations and two Islamic communities.

A 1996 law permits citizens to donate 1 percent of their income tax to the church of their choice and an additional 1 percent to the nonprofit agency of their choice. Statistics from the collection of tax revenue voluntarily directed for church use confirm the ranking of traditional estimates of church affiliation. The top 10 churches for the year 2000 and the number of individuals who chose to donate 1 percent of their tax to that church are as follows: Catholic Church--357,163; Calvinist Church--116,073; Lutheran Church--33,217; Congregation of Faith--9,283; Jewish Community--5,950; Jehovah's Witnesses--5,789; Krishna Consciousness--4,432; Baptist Church--3,889; Tibetan Buddhist Community--2,922; and Unitarian Church--1,760.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The 1990 Law on the Freedom of Conscience regulates the activities and benefits enjoyed by religious communities and establishes the criteria by which they attain that legal designation. Religious groups must declare that they have 100 followers and submit a brief statement of principles to a local court to become registered as a church. While any group is free to practice their faith, formal registration makes available to a religious group certain protections and privileges, and grants access to several forms of state funding. The courts have registered more than 136 churches.

The State grants financial support for religious practice, educational work, and the maintenance of public art collections of cultural value. In 2001 total government support to the various churches was $93,475 (Hungarian Forint (HUF) 24,303,487), while in 2002 it reached $102,056 (26,534,800 HUF). The Government provides the same level of financial support for church-sponsored education as for state institutions on a per child basis.

At the end of 2001, the Government also reached an agreement with the 4 historical churches to support clergy in settlements with a population of less than 5,000. Clergy in the small settlements receive supplementary wages for their services. The money has been distributed through the churches since January 1, 2002. As there are no functioning synagogues in small settlements, the Government modified their agreement with the Jewish Community to allow it to spend the money on reconstruction and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries. After a lengthy series of talks, the Government concluded a similar agreement in the beginning of 2002 with six minor churches: the Baptist, Unitarian, and Pentecostal churches, and the Budai Serb, Romanian, and Greek Orthodox Churches.

To promote the revitalization of religious institutions and settle property issues, the Government signed separate agreements with the country's four historic churches and with two smaller churches (Hungarian Baptist and Budai Serb Orthodox) between 1997 and 1999. In defense of the agreements, Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated that "under the given circumstances, we succeeded in removing all financial, administrative, political, and legal hurdles from the path of our historic churches." The churches and the State agreed on a number of properties to be returned and an amount of monetary compensation to be paid for properties that could not be returned. These agreements are subsumed under the 1991 Compensation Law, which require the Government to compensate churches for properties confiscated by the Government after January 1, 1946. In 1999 the Government paid churches $21 million (5 billion HUF) as compensation for the assets confiscated during the Communist regime. By 2011 the State is expected to pay an estimated total of $179 million (42 billion HUF) to the churches for buildings not returned. While these agreements primarily addressed property issues and restitution, they also have provisions addressing the public service activities of the churches, religious education, and the preservation of monuments.

As of the end of 2001, there were more than 1,600 pending cases of real property that once belonged to churches that, between 1999 and 2011, the State must decide whether or not to return. Real estate cases have involved 12 religious groups: Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Unitarian, Baptist, Hungarian Romanian Orthodox, Hungarian Orthodox, Budai Serb Orthodox, Hungarian Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, the Salvation Army, and the Confederation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ). Overall, 7,220 claims were made by churches for property restitution under the 1991 Compensation Law: 1,600 cases were rejected as inapplicable under the law; the Government decided to return the property in 1,129 cases, and gave cash payments in another 1,770 cases; approximately 1,000 cases were resolved directly between former and present owners without government intervention; and the remainder (approximately 1,660 cases) must be decided by 2011. Religious orders and schools have regained some property confiscated by the Communist regime.

A 1992 compensation law provided for restitution to families of persons who were sentenced in court under the Communist and Nazi regimes. In 1996 the Constitutional Court decreed that the law was drawn too narrowly. In 1997 Parliament passed modifications to this law and extended compensation for the period 1939 to 1989 to "victims of political autocracy." This category includes victims of political, religious, and racist persecution during World War II; forced laborers in Soviet camps; and victims of the 1956 revolution. At that time, the Government decided upon $12 million (3 billion HUF) as the total compensation figure to be distributed among all Holocaust victims. Based on this figure, in 1998 the Orban Government decided that it could allow compensation of $128 (30,000 HUF) to the heirs of the Holocaust victims. MAZSIHISZ and international Jewish organizations criticized the package as unfair, comparing it to previous awards of $4,255 (1 million HUF) given to the heirs of victims executed by the Communist regime. In November 2000, the Constitutional Court ruled that the proposed package was inadequate. The Government is in the process of negotiating a new proposal with the Jewish community; however, talks have stalled over the issue of paying interest on the proposed compensation. In 1998 the Ministry for Cultural Heritage initiated an inventory of museum holdings to identify works of art eligible for restitution or compensation for Holocaust victims.

Easter Monday, Whit Monday, All Saints Day, and Christmas Day are all celebrated as national holidays. These holidays do not impact negatively any religious groups.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

However, the Government has demonstrated a willingness to treat the larger or longer established religions more favorably than the minority religious communities. A 2000 amendment to the tax code makes donations to the country's large or long-established churches tax deductible. For donors to qualify for the deduction, a church must be able to document one of the following: That it has been present in the country for 100 years or more; that it has been registered legally for at least 30 years (as no new churches were registered under the Communist regime, this essentially means churches registered before 1925); or that the present church following equals 1 percent of all tax contributors (approximately 43,000 persons). These criteria limit the tax benefit to only 14 of the some 136 registered churches in the country. Several of the smaller churches whose members cannot participate in this tax deduction took the case to the Constitutional Court, which chose not to review it.

In 2000 investigations into the activities of the Congregation of Faith by the Hungarian Taxation Authority (APEH) resulted in no charges. The Congregation also was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry in 1999 when the ties between the Church and one of the former ruling parties, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), came under scrutiny. The congregation, which has been in existence for 20 years, is the fastest growing religious group in the country. It is a charismatic evangelical Christian church and its religious discipline, zeal, and appeal to youth have engendered distrust among the country's older, more traditional population.

In 2000 the APEH also has initiated investigations of the Church of Scientology based on questions regarding the registration of clergy. The investigations took place at the Church's office where APEH investigators requested files and conducted interviews. The investigations have not affected the usual management of the Church and have not required the expenditure of large amounts of Church funds. In September 2001, the APEH closed its investigation and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between religious groups are amicable, and there is little friction between churches. Several Christian churches and the Jewish community have institutionalized a Christian-Jewish dialog, bringing together religious academics for regular discussions. Across a wide range of other areas, churches also have shown a great willingness to work together to achieve common social or political goals.

Overall society welcomed the increasing religious activity that followed the transition from communism. However, there also is some concern over the ease with which regulations on religion may be exploited, as well as concerns about the perceived undue influence that some "new churches" have over their followers.

The 1997 changes to the Penal Code made it easier to enforce and stiffen penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's ethnicity, race, or nationality.

There continued to be occasional reports of vandalism and/or destruction of Christian and Jewish property. National Police figures for the first quarter of 2002 indicate a declining trend in cases of vandalism, while there is a worsening trend of burglary. While in 2001, a total of 40 religious buildings and 18 cemeteries were vandalized, during the first quarter of 2002, 21 religious buildings and 22 cemeteries were attacked. In 2001 there were criminal cases of burglary in 144 churches and 4 cemeteries, while in the first quarter of 2002, there were 50 burglaries in churches and 140 burglaries in cemeteries. Most police and religious authorities consider these acts of youth vandalism and not indications of religious intolerance.

Anti-Semitism remained a problem, which the Government continued to address. While there were no reports of anti-Semitic violence, there were incidents of desecration of Jewish tombstones and anti-Semitic graffiti on property. During the April 2002 elections, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), the one political party that had been accused repeatedly of using anti-Semitic rhetoric, was voted out of Parliament. The Government initiated criminal proceedings against a former Member of Parliament for remarks that were considered anti-Semitic.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy actively monitors religious activities, maintaining regular contact with government officials, members of parliament, leaders of large and small churches, and representatives of local and international nongovernmental organizations that address issues of religious freedom. Through these contacts, embassy officers have tracked closely recent government efforts to modify the country's laws and the impact this might have on smaller, less well-established churches.

The Embassy also has remained active on issues of compensation and property restitution for Holocaust victims. Embassy officers have worked with MAZSIHISZ, the Hungarian Jewish Public Foundation, other local and international Jewish organizations and with Members of Parliament and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to maintain a dialog on restitution issues, promote fair compensation, and secure access to Holocaust-era archives.

The U.S. Embassy continues to urge the Government to speak out against anti-Semitism and hate speech.

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