In early December 2018, the Hungarian parliament passed a series of sweeping laws with major constitutional implications. The parliamentary session itself was something of a circus. In order to pass the law, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government was forced to disregard rules of the chamber that would have allowed the opposition to derail the legislation with parliamentary maneuvers. In protest, the opposition sounded bullhorns in Parliament while throwing confetti, before walking out. Perhaps the most significant law was one establishing a new, parallel system of courts which critics say give Orbán complete control of the judiciary. Less noted, but also significant, was a major revision of Hungary’s law on the status of churches. The Orbán regime’s record on religious freedom is less than sterling, and earlier versions of its church law did not fare well in the courts.

First, Hungary’s Constitutional Court struck down significant portions of the law in 2013; next the European Court of Human Rights found the law in breach of the European Convention. The newly passed amendments to the church law, which have effectively rewritten the law in its entirety, are putatively intended to redress the human rights violations occasioned by the earlier law. Not surprisingly, however, they fail to do that. Like a television soap opera that runs for years without much happening in the plot, the history of Hungary’s church law is full of dramatic episodes that never bring change. As we shall see, the new church law, rather than redress the violations of religious freedom caused by the earlier law, simply repackages them. In what follows I will (1) retrace briefly the history of the Orbán regime’s church law and its impacts; (2) discuss the content and conception of the new law; and (3) identify the enormous discrepancies between the concept of the law and its applications.



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