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Hungarian Buddhists fight discriminatory law

The Buddhist Channel, June 30, 2012

Jai Bhim Network lead Buddhist groups to petition against legislation that illegitimizes non-Christian religions

Budapest, Hungary -- Buddhists in Hungary are faced with a current major political crisis. The issue, if not immediately dealt with will result in Buddhist organisations being deprived of all legal status, thus losing considerable financial benefits and official legitimation enjoyed by other religions.

<< Hungarian Buddhist Gypsy youth

Last year, elections in Hungary brought to power a conservative nationalist party, winning two thirds of the seats in Parliament. The character of this government is illustrated by its share of significant elements of an extreme right wing party in Parliament, which is more or less explicitly racist, anti-Gypsy and anti-Semitic.

With such a substantial majority, the government has been able to write a new constitution for Hungary that gives Christianity a privileged status. On that basis Hungarian legislators have introduced a new law on churches, redefining what is religious congregation, entitlement to legal status and the tax and other benefits that go with it.

In the new law, called "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community", or famously known as "the church law" in Hungary, only ‘historic Hungarian churches’ are automatically recognised. These include Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Orthodox and a few other traditional Christian churches. These denominations are all explicitly accepted in the law, and no other Christian sects are acknowledged.

While some traditional Jewish congregations are included, reformed Jews are not. In this legislation, not a single Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist organisation is accepted.

The law allows for other religious congregations to be recognised in future, if they can prove that they have a membership of at least one thousand and have been in existence for more than twenty years.

However, the law gives the authority of recognition to Parliament and the courts will have no jurisdiction over whether or not any organisation fulfils the criteria and therefore qualifies for recognition.

Since recognition can only be given on the basis of a two thirds majority of votes in Parliament, it is very likely that it will not be awarded to Gypsy Buddhists and others in future. The far-right anti-Gypsy party together with Christian Democrat members of the ruling party will be able to block such a vote in the present Parliament and this situation is likely to continue for some years.

The immediate result of this new law is that all Buddhist organisations will lose their status as religious congregations with effect from January 1, 2012.

Implications of the law

How has such discriminatory laws impact the livelihood of existing Buddhist organizations? Take the Jai Bhim Network for instance.

Integral to Jai Bhim's Buddhist practice is active social work carried out on behalf of the Gypsy communities in Hungary and neighboring countries in Central Europe.

Inspired by the great Indian Buddhist, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, who led millions of former ‘untouchables’ into Buddhism in 1956, the network engages itself in education work mainly for young Gypsies, who are effectively excluded from the secondary school system, as many of them having been declared ‘educationally subnormal’.

Jai Bhim now has close to a thousand students spread out in six schools, all of whom are at the least gaining the benefits that their Buddhist teachers and friends are bringing to them. Through these efforts, these youth have gained a very positive impression of the Buddha and His teachings.

The tax benefits of Jai Bhim's legal status as a religious congregation are crucial to the survival of it's educational work. Next year, it is projected that their income for running the schools will halve because of the new law, making it very difficult for them to provide education to the already highly marginalised young people.

The fact that Jai Bhim is led and run by Gypsies who are Buddhists makes it even more likely that the government will to dismiss their case for appeal. As an illustration of what they are likely to face in time to come, Jai Bhim successfully sued one Member of Parliament from the majority party for racist remarks made in Parliament in an attack on the organization and are preparing a similar case against another from the far-right party.

To this end, Jai Bhim has taken the lead to create awareness of the discriminatory laws passed in Hungary and have appealed for public support to put pressure on the Hungarian Government. Their aim is one and only this: to get the government to repeal the laws and to afford legal recognition to their organisation, as well as to other Buddhist groups.

Details of their petition can be found here: http://www.refuge.hu/

For an analysis of the controversial legislation please see:


About Jai Bhim Network

Jai Bhim Buddhist Network, an organization of Gypsy/Roma Buddhists in Hungary, is affiliated to the Triratna Buddhist Community and a member of the European Buddhist Union.

For more details, please visit: www.jaibhim.hu


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