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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
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 religions" 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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 35,919 square miles, and its population is an estimated 10.1 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 religion. The majority, 55 percent, said that they practiced religion in their own way, or were nominally religious, but not regularly active in their religious community. Approximately 30 percent said that they were nonreligious.

The 2001 national census contained an optional question on religious affiliation,and 90 percent of the population provided a response. According to the census results, 55 percent of thecountry's citizens are RomanCatholic, 15 percent are members of the Reformed Church, 3 percent are members of the Lutheran Church, and less than 1percent are followers of Judaism. These four faiths comprise the country's historic religions. Three percent of respondents identified themselves as GreekCatholics, and 15 percent of respondents declared no religious affiliation. The remaining percentage of the population is divided between a number of other denominations. The 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 three Islamic communities.

A 1996 law permits citizens to donate 1percent of their income taxes to the religion of their choice and an additional 1percent to the nonprofit agency of their choice. The Government nearly doubles the taxpayers donation, i.e. it adds 0.9 percent of the sum tithed to each church. Statistics from the collection of tax revenue voluntarily directed for use by religious groupsconfirm the ranking of traditional estimates of religious affiliation. In 2003, 14.6 percent of the taxpayers contributed $14.6 million (HUF 3 billion) to 114 faiths and the Government added $43.6 million (HUF 8.933 billion) to that total.

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.

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.

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. To become registered as a religion, religious groups must submit a statement to a local county courtdeclaring that they have at least100 followers. The only question considered by the court is if the registration of the new church is constitutional. While any group is free to practice its 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 144 religious groups.

Religious instruction is not part of the education curricula in public schools; however, the Government permits primary and secondary school students to enroll in extracurricular religious education classes. Optional religious instruction is usually held after the normal school day and is taught by representativesof religiousgroups in school facilities. While the Government makes provisions for minority religions to engage in religious education in public schools, the four historical religions provide the majority of after-hours religious instruction. During the 2003-2004 school year, 41 registered religious groups provided religious instruction to 525,197 students in public schools.

A 1994 government decree on the military chaplain's service created permanent pastoral representation for the four historic religions in the country's defense forces. The decree also requires the military to facilitate the rights of other religions to practice their religion and to provide pastoral care for members of the military. The Ministry of Defense funds and maintains the chaplain's service. Under the decree, soldiers do not receive preferential treatment for either foregoing or using the chaplain's service. This provision is respected in practice. A similar system exists for the provision of religious services to prisoners. The Ministry of Justice regulates it.

The Government allocates public funds to registered religions. In 2003, the Government allocated approximately $176.5 million (HUF 36.18 billion) in public funds for various religious activities and related programs. Government expenditures supported religious practice, educational work, and the maintenance of public art collections of cultural value. Compensation for nonrestituted religious property, the reconstruction of religious institutions, and the general subsidy for religious activities comprised the largest components of state financial support. The Government provides the same level of financial support for private religious education as for state institutions on a per child basis. Government support generally remains constant year-to-year.

In 2003, the Government allocated $6.95 million (HUF 1.424 billion) to clergy in settlements with populations of less than 5,000.

To promote the revitalization of religious institutions and settle property issues, the Government signed separate agreements with the country's four historic religions and with two smaller churches (Hungarian Baptist and Budai Serb Orthodox) between 1997 and 1999. The religious groups and the Government 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 religious groups for properties confiscated by the Government after January 1, 1946. In 2003, the Government paid religious groups $13.41 million (HUF 2.75 billion) as compensation for the assets confiscated during the Communist regime. In the first quarter of 2004, 46 properties valued $30.05 million (HUF 7.8 billion) were returned to the Catholic Church. By 2011, the Government is expected to pay an estimated total of $166.8 million (HUF 34.2 billion) to religious groups for buildings not returned. While these agreements primarily address property issues and restitution, they also have provisions addressing the public service activities of the religious groups, religious education, and the preservation of monuments.

At the end of 2003, there were 968 pending cases of real property that once belonged to religious groups,which the Governmentmust decide whether or not to returnbefore 2011. 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). In 2003, the Government resolved cases involving 174 properties primarily belonging to the Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran churches. There were 61 properties returned to churches, and churches received monetary compensation for 113 properties. Overall 7,220 claims were made by religious groups for property restitution under the 1991 Compensation Law: 1,600 cases were rejected as inapplicable under the law; the Government decided to return property in 1,822 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 (968 cases) must be decided by 2011. Religious orders and schools have regained some property confiscated by the Communist regime.

During the period covered by this report, the Government signed an agreement with a foreign government allowing access to government archives on the Holocaust and is scheduled to supplement this commitment with agency-to-agency agreements to facilitate archival access for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In April, the Government signed an agreement with the U.S. Government on the preservation of cultural heritage sites. This agreement will allow for the maintenance and preservation of Jewish cultural heritage sites that have fallen into disrepair. The Government has pledged its support for implementing this agreement in a concrete manner and has promised to help fund preservation projects under the agreement. Also in April, the Government dedicated the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center, which was initiated under the previous government. The Government has made strong efforts to combat anti-Semitism by clearly speaking out against the use of coded speech by extreme right-wing ideologues, and the Prime Minister himself has publicly stated that Hungarians were also responsible for the Holocaust.

In January 2003, the Government reached an agreement with the Jewish community's organization Mazsihisz on compensation payments to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. The agreement settled a 6-year dispute between the Government and the Mazsihisz. Under the terms of the plan, which came into force the same year, qualified recipients received $1,724 (HUF 400,000) from the Government. Only applicants who complied with a 1994 registration deadline are eligible to participate in the program, a number estimated by Mazsihisz to be 150,000 persons. Mazsihisz stated that many potential beneficiaries did not originally register, either out of concern for identifying themselves on a government register as Jewish persons or from skepticism regarding the implementation of the 1992 compensation law.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice continued tocontribute 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. Several laws and government decrees specifically grant rights and privileges to historical religions that are not directly granted to other religious groups, such as in the decree on the military chaplain's service and, until January 2003, the tax code.

Before January 2003, the tax code only permitted tax-deductible donations to the country's large or long-established religions. For donors to have qualified for the deduction under the previous tax structure, a religion had to document one of the following: that it had been present in the country for 100 years or more, that it had been registered legally for at least 30 years (as no new religions were registered under the Communist regime, this essentially meant religions registered before 1925), or that the present religion's following equaled 1 percent of all tax contributors (approximately 43,000 persons). These criteria limited the tax benefit to only 14 of the 136 registered religions in the country. As of January 2003, an amendment to the law governing state financing of religions made donations to any registered religion tax-deductible.

There were credible reports that the Government delayed and, in some cases, denied accreditation to religious schools run by smaller, newly established religions in a manner inconsistent with the law. An application by the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness to operate a theology institute was finally approved by the Government's accreditation board in 2003 after a 3-year delay. The Government has not subjected accreditation requests from the historical religions to similar scrutiny.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The Government took steps to strengthen its hate speech legislation in light of an overturned conviction. In addition, the Government has opened its national archives to Holocaust researchers and has agreed to allow the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage sites. Several high-level government officials, including Prime Minister Medgyessy, have publicly called on citizens to acknowledge their countrymen's participation in the Holocaust in an attempt to dispel the popular notion that the country's Nazi occupiers were solely responsible for the tragedy.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between religious groups are amicable, and there is little friction between religions. Several Christian churches and the Jewish community have institutionalized a Christian-Jewish dialogue, bringing together religious academics for regular discussions. Across a wide range of other areas, religions 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 religions" have over their followers.

The 1997 changes to the hate speech law that were intended to resolve conflicting court decisions and make it easier to enforce and stiffen penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's ethnicity, race, or nationality proved inadequate. In early 2003, the Office of the Prosecutor successfully prosecuted a member of the extremist Justice and Life Party for publishing an anti-Semitic article in a local newspaper. In November 2003, the Budapest Appeals Court acquitted a former Member of Parliament, who is a Calvinist pastor, of a charge of incitement to hatred. Again, because of conflicting court decisions parliament passed a more restrictive law on hate speech, this time incorporating religious groups within its scope. Pressured from both the Right and the Left, President Madl referred it to the Constitutional Court for advisory opinion in January. In May, The Constitutional Court ruled that the law is too vague and returned it to parliament for refinement.

Reports of vandalism or destruction of Christian and Jewish property exhibited an upward trend.During 2003, the National Police reported 459 cases of vandalism to cemeteries and 108 burglary cases involving places of worship, compared with 200 cemetery vandalism cases and 50 burglaries to places of worship in 2002. During the first quarter of 2004, the National Police reported 135 cases of vandalism to cemeteries, and 15 cases of burglary involving places of worship. There is no data on which churches owned the cemeteries. Most police and religious authorities consider these incidents asacts 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, representatives of the Jewish community expressed concern over anti-Semitism in some media outlets, in society, and in coded political speech. For example, certain segments of an ongoing Sunday news magazine, Vasarnapi Ujsag, on Hungarian Public Radio were criticized for presenting guests who held anti-Semitic viewpoints. In October 2003, a weekly talk show, Ejjeli Menedek, reported on Holocaust denier David Irving, who made derogatory statements regarding Jewish persons. The show was subsequently cancelled. Jewish Community Mazsihisz representatives complained that an anti-European Union (EU) movement used the Star of David in its material. They also requested the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to close a county museum exhibition highlighting the Arrow cross and Hungarian nationalism during World War II. The exhibition was closed, and the materials were returned to their owners. In January, an Israeli flag was burned at a small protest outside a Budapest radio station. The protest arose in response to an on-air statement by a broadcaster who allegedly called for all Christians to be killed. Charges were filed against three individuals for taking part in the burning of another nation's flag. The radio station was suspended for 1-month. During their visit to Hungary in April, the Chief Rabbi and the President of Israel spoke positively of the situation of the Jewish community in Hungary.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom activities, maintaining regular contact with government officials, Members of Parliament, leaders of large and small religions, 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 religions.

During the period covered by this report, the U.S. Embassy played a critical role in negotiating the Agreement for the Preservation of America's Cultural Heritage Abroad, which will provide the basis for the preservation of Jewish religious and cultural sites in Hungary. The Embassy also played a key role in the negotiations for an agreement that secured access to Holocaust-era archives.

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, as well as the Prime Minister's Office to maintain a dialogue on restitution issues, promote fair compensation, and secure access to Holocaust-era archives.

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

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