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Attempt To Purge Hundreds of Churches from Hungary's Rolls Faces Setback (Again)

(Updated) Eastern European nation's top court rules against controversial legislation–again.
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Update (April 9, 2014): The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Hungary's right to recognize church communities breaches freedom of religion. According to The Wall Street Journal, Hungary's Church Act of 2012 unrightfully allows the Hungarian parliament to decide whether or not to give religious minorities legal church status. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Orban—a confirmed Protestant—was elected to office for another four years.

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Update (March 12): German newspaper Deutsche Welle has reported that Hungary has approved a constitutional amendment that "allows parliament to decide on the legal status of religious communities," overruling last month's Constitutional Court decision.

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Hungarian lawmakers and judges have been wrestling back and forth since 2011 over a law that reduced the number of recognized faith groups in the eastern European nation from more than 350 to just 14, leaving many Christian groups–such as Methodists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists–in limbo.

The law, which was welcomed by the dominant Hungarian Reformed Church, recognizes 14 religious groups and requires almost 350 others to re-register for state approval in order to receive tax breaks and to use the title "church." In order to re-register, faith groups must prove they have 1,000 followers and have existed for more than 20 years; then parliament must approve them by a two-thirds majority.

Government officials say the law is intended to root out fraudulent organizations that operate under the protection of religion. Religious freedom advocates argue that the law will cause hardship for many smaller faith groups.

However, the nation's Constitutional Court has now ruled that the current law, which allows lawmakers to determine which churches qualify, "is unconstitutional because the lawmakers' decisions cannot be appealed, no written justification is provided, and the process lends itself to political influence."

The ruling will not prohibit Hungary's Parliament from amending the rules to "introduce more effective legal means to filter out organisations that in reality do not pursue religious activities."

And Parliament is planning to do just that, which means that the ruling to restore official status to churches that lost it last year may be short lived.

CT previously reported on the registration law in 2011 before it took effect, and again in 2012 after Parliament passed a revised version to address the Constitutional Court's earlier concerns.

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