Hungary: Adventists take religious freedom concerns to political leaders

Adventist Church status in Hungary won't be affected under proposed new law

Seventh-day Adventist leaders describe a recent meeting with top government leaders in Hungary as “cordial” and “productive.” An Adventist delegation met June 2 with Zsolt Semjén, Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister, and László Szászfalvi, Minister of State, in part to seek clarification about a new draft law that would tighten registration requirements for some religious groups in Hungary.

Members of the delegation included Dr. Michael Ryan, a general vice president of the Adventist world church; Pastor Tamás Ócsai, president of the Adventist Church in Hungary; Ms. Renáta Zolyomi, treasurer of the church in Hungary; and Pastor Raafat Kamal, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Adventist Church in the Trans-European region.

Dr. Ryan, who led the delegation, called the tone of the meeting “very positive.” “The Adventist Church in Hungary is not a large communion,” he said, “so this conversation provided an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about who Adventists are, and the ways in which we want to be a constructive force in Hungarian society.”   

“We valued the opportunity to share our concerns about this draft law, which could have unintended consequences for some religious groups,” said Pastor Ócsai later. “And we appreciated both Mr. Semjén’s and Mr. Szászfalvi’s willingness to meet with us, as well as their assurances that registration of the Adventist Church in Hungary would not be impacted under the proposed legislation.”

Dr. John Graz, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Adventist world church, said he welcomes assurances that the Adventist Church’s status in Hungary would not be adversely affected by the new law. He added, though, that “as Adventists, we care deeply about religious freedom for every person—not just those of our own faith. And so we will continue to watch the situation closely in Hungary as lawmakers consider this proposal.”

Under the proposed changes, a number of smaller religious groups—which have already obtained legal recognition under Hungary’s 1990 Religion Law—would be “de-registered.” The new law would also make re-registration of these groups significantly more challenging. The legal definition of “religious activities” would become very narrow, and religious groups would have to meet stringent conditions in order to legally refer to themselves as a “church.” They would be required to prove, in part, to have been organized in Hungary for at least 20 years and to have more than 1,000 members.

The Adventist Church in the central European country of Hungary has more than 100 congregations and some 5,000 members. Hungary was under Communist rule until 1989, and in the post-communist years interest in religion has grown, with some 55 percent of the population now identifying themselves as Roman Catholic.