Adventist Church in Hungary loses legal status, must reapply under new legislation

Budapest, Hungary - Under controversial legislation passed last month, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hungary is one of 344 Christian churches and other faith groups that have lost their legal status and must apply to the Hungarian Parliament for registration.

Only 14 religious organizations have retained their previous status under the new law, which human rights advocates around the world have decried as "draconian" and "oppressive."

Ócsai Tamás, president of the Adventist Church in Hungary, has expressed his dismay that, in spite of previous assurances by government leaders, the church must now undertake the considerable task of applying to parliament for renewal of its registration.

"We're currently reviewing this matter with our church members, legal experts, the Trans-European Division, and the General Conference, and we intend to make a decision in September regarding the best way to move forward," Tamás said.

"The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hungary meets all the criteria for re-registration under the new law," he said. "We ask for the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the world as we face this challenge."

According to Raafat Kamal, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist Church's Trans-European Division, the legislation that was passed by the Hungarian Parliament during the early morning hours of July 11 was very different to the version shown to faith groups during consultations in May and June this year.

"The process of applying for registration has now become politicized," Kamal said. "The outcome will be dependent on the political climate at any given time, and could expose religious minorities to unchecked discrimination."

John Graz, PARL director for the Adventist world church, says the new law has seriously compromised Hungary's standing as a country that respects and protects basic human rights.

"This law is inconsistent with both European values and with international covenants protecting religious freedom," Graz said. "We respectfully urge Hungary's lawmakers to consider the message this law sends to the international community, and to take steps to protect its religious minorities."

The legislation, called the "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities," requires religious groups that are not one of the 14 "approved" religious groups to undergo a process of applying for legal status. The new law also narrows the legal definition of "religious activities" and imposes a number of stringent conditions that must be met before an organization is granted the right to refer to itself as a "church." The law comes into force on January 1, 2012.

The Adventist Church in this central European country has more than 100 congregations and some 5,000 members. Since Communist rule in Hungary ended in 1989, interest in religion has grown with some 55 percent of the population now identifying themselves as Roman Catholic.