for The Huffington Post on July 22, 2011
(RNS/ENInews) Christian leaders in Hungary are divided over a restrictive new law on religion, with larger denominations welcoming its curbs on church activities and smaller groups voicing fears for their future.
"We wanted a new law to make it more difficult to establish churches here -- and we're happy the present government has now done something," said Zoltan Tarr, general secretary of the Hungarian Reformed Church, which claims around a fifth of the country's 9.9 million inhabitants as members.
The new "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities" was enacted July 12 with backing from Hungary's governing center-right Fidesz party.
Under the law, only 14 of 358 registered churches and religious associations will be granted legal recognition, while others will have to reapply for legal registration after two-thirds approval in parliament.
However, the final law was "very different" than a draft shown to faith groups in May, said Laszlo Debreceni, a leader of Hungary's Church of God, which traces its roots to 1907 but was stripped of recognition under the new law.
"I don't think anyone will come and tell us we can't worship God," Debreceni said. "But it will raise serious issues that some churches are now on the approved list and others not."
Under the law, religious groups will need at least 1,000 members and a 20-year presence in Hungary to be recognized. The Hungarian Methodist church, ISKCON and Islamic community were among those stripped of their previous legal status.
The law recognizes Hungary's predominant Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox churches, as well as the Jewish community.