HUN-2011-3-006
a)  Hungary / b)  Constitutional Court / c) / d)  20-12-2011 / e)  164/2011 / f) / g)  Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette), 2011/155 / h) CODICES (Hungarian).
 
Keywords of the systematic thesaurus:
 
 
Institutions - Legislative bodies - Law-making procedure - Right of amendment.
Fundamental Rights - Equality - Criteria of distinction - Religion.
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Freedom of worship.
 
Keywords of the alphabetical index:
 
Church, recognition / Parliament, debate, final vote.
 
Headnotes:
 
Where legislators have rewritten key parts of legislation which is about to be submitted to the final parliamentary vote, this leaves no time for proper parliamentary debate and is therefore unconstitutional.
 
Summary:
 
I. Shortly after Parliament passed ‘Act C of 2011 on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities’(hereinafter, the «Act on C»), on 12 July 2011, the Constitutional Court received several petitions requesting that the Act should be declared null and void in its entirety on formal grounds and due to its unconstitutional content. The applicants argued that Act C discriminated against smaller churches and that the «inferior religious status» of «de-registered» religious organisations violated the right to religious freedom.
 
The original bill submitted to Parliament acknowledged three levels of legal status, with thirteen ‘‘recognised’’churches at the top, enjoying full privileges, and two other categories with lesser rights. The list was to be closed with no potential for new churches to be added to the original list. However, some hours before the final vote a practically new bill was submitted to Parliament.
 
There were crucial differences between the bills. In the earlier version, the legal status of a church was to be decided by the courts. In the final reading that right was entrusted to the two-thirds majority of Parliament.
 
In the original bill a church had to operate in Hungary for at least twenty years and needed a minimum membership of one thousand. The time limit remained under the new bill, but the size of membership was not specified in the final bill. Instead of thirteen recognised churches the final bill listed fourteen accepted religious organisations as churches. (Over 300 other churches, including Methodists, Buddhists and followers of Islam were divested of their church status and could no longer use the name «church»). There was, however, scope under the new bill for future registration of religious organisations as churches. The new bill was adopted by Parliament on 12 July 2011 and was meant to enter into force on 1 January 2012.
 
II. The Constitutional Court annulled the Act C for procedural reasons, pointing specifically to the legislative process itself, where several major amendments were put forward prior to the final vote, against House Rules. Under Standing Order no. 107.1 of Resolution 46/1994 on the Standing Orders of the Parliament «before the beginning of the final vote a proposed amendment may be introduced in writing to any provision voted on in the debate in detail for such reason that the provision voted on is not in compliance with the Constitution or any other Act, with a provision of the bill already voted on or with any provision of the bill not affected by amendments». Standing Order no. 107 restricts last-minute amendments to the bills. In the present case, the legislators rewrote key parts of the Act C just before the final vote, leaving no time for due parliamentary debate. The Constitutional Court found that this violated legal guarantees of democratic exercise of power.
 
III. Justice András Bragyova and Justice András Holló attached concurring opinions to the judgment. Chief Justice Péter Paczolay, Justice Egon Dienes-Oehm, Justice Béla Pokol, Justice Péter Szalay and Justice Mária Szívós attached separate opinions to the judgment.
 
Supplementary information:
 
On 30 December 2011, a proviso was inserted into the First Amendment to the Fundamental Law to the effect that Parliament, in a cardinal Act, determines «recognised churches» and the normative conditions for recognising further religious organisations. Under this provision, a cardinal Act may require a religious organisation to operate for a certain period of time before being acknowledged as a church. The cardinal Act may also specify a certain membership, and require that historical traditions be taken into account, as well as the acceptance of the religious organisation within society. Then, on 30 December 2011 Parliament passed the Act on Churches, with virtually the same content as before. The Act entered into force on 1 January 2012.
 
In December 2011 the parliamentary majority also introduced a modification to the House Rules allowing the lifting of restrictions on last-minute amendments in order to accelerate legislation in certain cases.
 
Languages:
 
Hungarian.