New Hungarian Constitution Revokes Nation's Recognition of Islam & Other Religions

The new Hungarian constitution withdraws official recognition and tax exempt status from over 300 religious denominations. Included on the new black list are: all denominations of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as several Catholic orders, Episcopalians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Methodists and others.

The new constitution introduces a law on religious life in Hungary that only last month was struck down as unconstitutional by the nation's Constitutional Court.

The constitution - called new Basic Law - strips Bulgarians of many of their liberies and concentrates unprecedented power in the central government.

The passage of the new constitution marks the crowning achievement of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center-right Fidesz party, 18 months into its rule. The party won 53 percent of the vote in the spring of 2010, resulting in 68 percent of the seats in parliament, enough to radically change Hungary's legal landscape.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest on Monday night to protest the country's new constitution, which in combination with other recent laws, severely curtails the independence of the country's central bank and courts, as well as slashing religious rights.

The crowd gathered outside as inside Prime Minister Orban and other leading government officials celebrated the new Basic Law inside the opera house. Hungarian President Pal Schmitt defended the document, saying that his countrymen should be proud of it. "The constitution was born of a wide consultation, building on national and European values," he said in a speech at the celebration. "Our Basic Law defines the family, order, the home, work and health as the most important, shared scale of values."

Many of them, say critics, have been aimed at eliminating constitutional guarantees, including press freedoms, and solidifying Fidesz's hold on power. "This Basic Law basically unwinds the checks and balances that we created in 1989," Sandor Szekely, co-head of the Solidarity movement which organized Monday night's rally, told Reuters.

Also on Monday, a prominent group of former political dissidents who struggled against Communist rule prior to 1989 published a scathing critique of the Orban government and the new constitution. "Viktor Orban's government is intent on destroying the democratic rule of law, removing checks and balances, and pursuing a systemic policy of closing autonomous institutions, including those of civil society, with the potential to criticize its omnipotence," the open letter reads. "Never since the regime change of 1989 when the Communist dictatorship was crushed has there been such an intense concentration of power in the region as in present-day Hungary."

Peter Szijjarto, Mr Orban’s spokesman, said that many criticisms of the new constitution were exaggerated or incorrect. "If anyone says the current Hungarian government wants to bring Hungary to a dictatorship, what can I say? No it does not," he said, "because it is a democratic government."

He insisted the new constitution was designed to replace a flawed basic law that, unlike in Hungary's neighbours, had remained in place in modified form since the fall of communism in eastern Europe two decades ago.

However, most international observers agree with the protestors, including leaders in Europe and America.

In the weeks prior to the New Year, both United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wrote to Orban to request that he rethink portions of the constitution or other key bills that his party sought to pass.

Germany's opposition Social Democrats, in particular, have been outspoken. The document, Rolf Mützenich, the SPD's parliamentary spokesman on foreign affairs, told the German news agency DPA on Monday, is "a break with democratic traditions and legal standards in Europe. The annulment of powers belonging to the Constitutional Court, the questioning of minority decisions and the disregard of minority rights is a scandal."