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

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

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. There is no state religion; however, the four "historic churches" and certain other denominations enjoy some privileges not available to other faiths.

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 the population is an estimated 10.1 million.

According to traditional estimates, 68 percent of believers 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 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. The top ten 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--333,383; Calvinist Church--107,387; Lutheran Church--30,534; Congregation of Faith--8,209; Jewish Community--5,791; Krishna Consciousness--5,505; Jehovah's Witnesses--5,459; Baptist Church--3,373; Tibetan Buddhist Community--2,080; and Unitarian Church--1,558.

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 they practiced religion in their own way or were nominally religious but not regularly active in their church. Approximately 30 percent said they were nonreligious.

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 generally protects 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. Currently religious groups must provide the signatures of 100 members and 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 over 100 churches.

In April 2001, Parliament voted down a government amendment that sought to tighten the law governing religious groups. Along with several noncontroversial technical changes, the government's amendment included three contentious points that the opposition and a number of small churches found objectionable. The bill offered a definition of religion and a listing of religious activities that would be used to determine what groups could benefit from church status. It empowered the Prosecutor General's office to seek and gain access to records on the activities of churches. Finally, the amendment sought to codify the Parliament's ability to legally differentiate among churches based on their social and functional differences. The stated aim of these proposals was to attempt to prevent abuse of registration procedures by organizations seeking tax breaks and other benefits while masquerading as religious groups. Churches lacking an extended historical presence in the country worried that the proposal, although perhaps well intentioned, would provide opportunities for persecution or open a debate in Parliament that could lead to a more restrictive environment.

The Government budget for 1999 included subsidies for 59 denominations, and the 2000 budget provides subsidies for 76. The State grants financial support for religious practice, educational work, and the maintenance of public art collections of cultural value. The Government provides the same financial support for church education as for state institutions on a per child basis.

To promote the revitalization of religious institutions and settle property issues, the Government signed separate agreements with the country's four "historic churches" (the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches and the Jewish community), 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 dealt primarily with property issues and restitution, they also have provisions dealing with the public service activities of the churches, religious education, and the preservation of monuments.

There are 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.

In 1992 Parliament passed a compensation law that provides for restitution to families of persons who were sentenced in court under the Communist and Nazi regimes. The Constitutional Court in 1996 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, the Orban Government in 1998 decided 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 Supreme Court ruled that the proposed package was inadequate. The Government is working on a new proposal. 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.

The traditional practice of going to church and participating in a religious service before taking the oath of office is not compulsory, but it is practiced by some political figures, including Prime Minister Orban in 1998.

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

 Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted 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. An amendment to the tax code adopted in December 2000 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 legally registered 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 90 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.

The APEH has also initiated investigations of the Church of Scientology in 2000 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. The APEH has stated that it will complete the investigation by September 2001.

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 Government's 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 have also shown a great willingness to work together to achieve common social or political goals.

Overall, society welcomed the boom in religious activity that followed the transition from communism. More recently, however, there 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. Government leaders say these sentiments support their efforts to modify the Law on Freedom of Conscience.

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. Ehrem Kemal, a skinhead group leader, was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for inflammatory anti-Semitic speeches made in 1997. The sentence was suspended and replaced in 2000 with 4 years probation.

There continue to be occasional reports of vandalism and/or destruction of Christian and Jewish property. National Police figures for the first 4 months of 2001 indicate a declining trend. While in 2000 33 religious buildings and 343 cemeteries were vandalized, in the first 4 months of 2001 only 7 religious buildings and 76 cemeteries were attacked. Most police and religious authorities consider these acts of youth vandalism and not indications of religious intolerance.

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 deal with 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 has also 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 the Parliament, and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to maintain a dialog on restitution issues, promote fair compensation, and secure access to Holocaust-era archives.