Secular Hungary

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A truly loving father

Mr László Tőkés, former bishop of the reformed church and present vice president of the European Parliament for the European People's Party, for Romania and of course for the Hungarian minority of Romania, loves his son Máté very dearly (meanwhile his wife filed for divorce among others because of his extramarital affairs). So much that when a couple of weeks ago the city administration of Oradea imposed a fine of around 700 euros for opening a bar without the neccessary permits, Mr Tőkés took his phone (either in Brussels or in Oradea) and called the local authorities.
The younger Mr Tőkés is also interested in football, being player and head of the club called Partium SC, who plays in the fifth league of Romania (there is no sixth). In their interpretetion, the referees were keeping to discriminate against them, so the father took his EP vice president's stationery and hand wrote a letter to the Romanian Football Federation, telling them that: 'As the father of one of the players of Partium SC I am shocked about the incident at the match against Rév. As vice-president of the European Parliament, being responsible among others about sports affairs I consider the behaviour of the three referees that sealed the fate of the game unacceptable. In the European spirit of fair play I ask you to accept the complaint of the president of the Partium SC ragarding the repetition of the game.'

Monday, 25 October 2010

How to get an award

The Hungarian State has a tradition of distributing state awards on the occation of national holidays, March 15th and October 23rd to people who have had a big positive impact on society. Of course it comes as no surprise that the present government and the president believe proselytization is worth a decoration:
Out of four medals named after the communist (!) prime minister Imre Nagy who became the national hero of the uprisal of 1956, one was received by a member of the board of the European protestant Hungarian Free University, a private club promoting portestant values.
Out of two Grand Crosses of the Order of Merit of the Hungarian State was given to the catholic cardinal of Alba Iulia in Romania for his merits in keeping up the religious life of the Hungarian minority and the deepening of religoius life.
25 medium crosses were awarded, 10 of them to religious persons for deeds such as the promotion of Christian values, the promotion of Jewish religous life, promoting the reformed church issues among the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, for redeeming lutheran values, for the strengthening of the links between state and churches, and for the promotion of (Catholic) faith schools.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Who will remain?

Meanwhile I've checked the tax office's list on 1% offerings - taypayers can donate 1% of their personal income tax to a charity, and another 1% to a church, or alternatively, to a secular cause offered by the state (for 2009 that was eradication of ambrosia, a highly allergen plant, and a programme to support especially talented kids).
This list includes of course taxpayers only (i.e. people who have a legal income and pay at least minimal taxes), so it does not include for example retired people who have no other income than their retirement benefits. But it still gives a clue about how many adherents churches have.
At present, one needs 100 members to found a church, and though the "statues" (main teachings etc.) have to be handed at registration, the state has no right to check them in any way.
The tax office lists 185 churches for 2009, the biggest one being the catholics, with 534 thousand people offering their 1% (45% of onepercents dedicated), and on the second place, lagging far behind, the reformed church with 186 thousand (20%). The third 'big traditional' church, the Lutherans has 49 thousand taxpaying members (4%). Another 3 make it over the 10000 adherents limit that Szászfalvi has suggested should be introduced: the baptists (1.3%), the Krishnas (1.1%) and a pentecostal church called Hit Gyülekezete (the Faith Church, 1.6%).
Of course as probably not only the taxpayers would count, some more churches will meet the criterion, such as the biggest Jewish and buddhist groups, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses. Overall, there are 25 churches that got more than 1000 donations, and only 15 of them have over 2000 income tax paying members who are devoted enough to fill out two lines on a form. Of these 25, 13 are Christian, 5 Buddhist, and 2 Jewish. Among the remaining, there are the Scientologists, the Jains (who are basically supporting an animal shelter called Noah's Ark), the Krishnas, an esoteric church and another with the aim to reestablish giving birth as spiritual act (supposedly related to the fact that anyone who would like to give birth at home is considered crazy by the medical establishment). Of course some more churches can count on retaining their status as 'established', nemaly those who have been present 'traditionally'. I can only guess about them, but I suppose Jewish and Christian orthodox groups (e.g. the Greek and Serb churches) will be among them, and the muslims will prbably argue that they are traditionally present in Hungary (after all, we had 150 years of Turkish rule, hadn't we...).
The list also contains the total amount of 1%-s donated to the curches, so one can count the avarage personal income (or rather, about the income tax) of the members of one particlar church. Among the over 1000 sized churches, the biggest taxpayers are (reinforcing stereotypes) the Jews (the avarage 1% of the income tax is 5900 forint per taxpayer, while Jews' 1% was 12509 forint for the biggest Jewish group and 10321 forint for the 'Status quo ante' group - the two groups separated in the 19th century over an argument on the relationship with the state).
The by faaar richest church members are Christians, however: the 84 members of the Korean Christians' 1% amounted to 58385 forint per person, which is ten times the avarage income (no typo, the amount was similar last year).
Before I forget: 25% of taxpayers donating their 1% gave it to the secular causes. Their avarage income avarages the general avarage.
But: most taxpayers just don't care. There are about 3.6 million taxpayers, of whom 24.8% are close enough to their church to donate it ca. 2 minutes to fill out the form (for the big denominations: 14.8% catholics, 5% protestant, 1.4% Lutherans, with the rest under 1%), and another 8.3% are dedicated enough to a quite impersonal secular cause (getting no media coverage) to offer their 1%. (Data corrected on 23/10/2010 23:32, after I've found the exact number of persons paying actually more than 0 forint taxes.)

The list:

Friday, 8 October 2010

Not more churches

Mr László Szászfalvi, state secretary of the Ministry for Public Adminsitration and Justice has outlined last weeks some plans to tighten the rules for establishing religious communities. Currently we have about 185 of them, and among others they have the right to compete with each other for 1% of the personal income tax.
It is rather easy to establish a church in Hungary at present: you need 100 members and you have to submit your statutes and main teachings - there is no testing if the community is a religious one, though it has happened that some requests for registration have been denied.
Mr Szászfalvi said in an interview that they plan to increase the number of members needed to 10.000. Meeting this criterion will pose some problems also for well established communities (such as ca. 150 followers of the byzantine rites present in Hungary since 1800 years or so), so they want to give an exemption for churches present in Hungary for a longer time, i.e. so-called "historical churches". Some big foreign communities such as the mormons may also have to fight for their status.
Of course we do have 'business churches' (bizniszegyházak), i.e. pseudo-religious communities eatablished solely for financial reasons. But surely the most efficient way to stop them would be to just do away with their financial privileges and treating them as any other non profit assosiacion? - Anyway, the state secretary's plans at least prove that churches do indeed enjoy privileges.
But then, as one of the critics mentioned, Christianity also started with only a dozen disciples.

Hunting season

A whole lot of institutions has submitted their claims regarding the new constitutions to the committee preparing the text. Many of them seek to impose their particular views on all citizens, and to narrow down rights. Of course especially regarding people’s private lives.

The Lutheran church wants the constitution to protect monogamous marriage and family life. They do not accept same-sex marriage and believe that the present regulation (same-sex couples may enter registered partnerships) is enough to protect against discrimination.
The catholic church agrees with the need to provide special constitutional protection for the institution of marriage and family, especially those with many children.

The Christian Democrat Party (the one which gives the deputy prime minister while making it into the parliament only as an ally of the governing party Fidesz) has also asked the National Organisation of Big Families for their opinion. They wish the constitution to declare that marriage is a lasting bond between one man and one woman, with the aim to produce and raise children. They also want the state to take over the financial burden of raising children and suggest that the right to accommodation should be declared in the constitution. They also want to give the vote to children – it would be of course the parents who would vote on behalf of their children.

The catholic church also wants to forbid working on Sundays. According to their view this is needed for the protection of the family and religious freedom.

Several organisations want the holy crown mentioned in the constitution, the Lutherans suggest the following preamble: “The Hungarian people, thankful for the 1000 year history of Hungary symbolised by the pristine crown of the Hungarian kings...” [No mention of the word “saint” here, of course.] The right-wing Organisation of Hungarians Abroad and the Professors’ Batthyány Circle also suggest the constitution to refer to the crown. They also want to give more power to the president: if he believes a legislation to be contrary to the constitution, he cannot be forced to sign it.

The National Elderly Citizens Association, asked for their opinion by Fidesz, believes that the constitution has to refer to the crown in order to secure the continuity of the state. The new constitution should declare the freedom of the state and the freedom of the members of the Holy Crown. The latter are the members of the state-founder Hungarian nation where ever they live and national minorities as long as they live within the territory of Hungary. Anyone else can live only as a guest in Hungary.

As I’ve already mentioned, the State Audit Office also believes the constitution should refer to the crown.

As to the status of religious communities, the catholic church considers it important that the constitution guarantees that churches can operate independently, free from state intervention. Many aspects of their teachings could be present in the constitution, such as the respect for human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity, the rights of parents, the right to religious education and the freedom to establish schools.

The Lutherans wrote that they expect the new constitution to strengthen freedom of religion and conscience including the religious freedom of individuals and the autonomy of churches. They would be glad if the constitution also listed crucial values of Christian origin such as the protection of life and methods to ensure empathy towards each other and cooperation, as well as to organise community life. If these are present, it is not necessary to openly refer to Christianism and God.

The reformed churches (Calvinists) want more rigorous criteria for the state registration of religious communities. They also want to include a guarantee that state and church institutions get the same funding for public services. The Jewish community agrees with that.

The Jewish community wishes to include the ten commandments in the preamble, as well as the Judaeo-Christian roots of the Hungarian culture. They also want to include collective rights, such as the right to human dignity of groups.

Actually the only suggestion for the broadening of rights came from the left umbrella organisation of trade unions (as the suggestion to give parents the right to vote in the name of their children violates the basic democratic value that each person’s vote has the same weight). Besides maintaining legislation protecting workers, they would like to introduce the right to opposition and include data protection into the constitution. They also suggest that any kind of private militia should be banned, and that no titles of nobility or similar prerogatives may be given or used.

Religious freedom (both positive and negative) is guaranteed also in the present constitution. The article on religious freedom (no. 60) of the present constitution goes as follows:
(1) In the Republic of Hungary everyone has the right to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
(2) This right includes the free choice or acceptance of religion or any other conviction according to one's conscience, and the liberty to express, or refuse to express, to exercise or teach one's religion and conviction through the performance of religious acts and rites, either individually or together with others, either publicly or in a closed circle.
(3) In the Republic of Hungary the Church functions in separation from the State.

The present Hungarian constitution in English:
For data about founding and funding, and religious attendance, check here and here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Financial audit and the constitution

Have you ever thought about the wide range of fields a state audit office has to be familiar with? In Hungary, this also includes comment on the bases of our constitituion, which the government and the president appointed by the ruling party want to change (allegedly because the present one is the 'communist' constitution of 1949 - while actually, as the saying goes, the only part of it that hasn't been changed after the fall of communism is the date of issuing).
Anyway, the Hungarian Court of Auditors (Állami Számvevőszék), which got some notoriety for deciding financial disputes between the state and the (catholic) church in favour of the church, has been asked to give its point of view on the constituton. Here's is what they issued:

"Proposals of the Court of Auditors
Consttitutional rules on state finances
Requirements [...]
- The Constitution of Hungary has to open a new chapter in our history. It has to close down the post-communist legislational and social progress.
- The Hungarian people needs a loveable and repectable basic law that serves social renewal and integrates experiences made.
- The new constitution has to express both in its structure and content that based on our historical heritage of 1100 years we  wish to establish a set of norms applicable in the 21st century. Therefore among others the following have to be referred to in the preamble:
  • the Holy Crown as a preeminent relic of history,
  • the impact of Christianity on the development and strenghtening of the moral firmness of the nation 
Cited at: