Get off the fence

I’ve managed to get this far in life without ever putting pen to paper to sign a petition. I have an irrational fear that this signature will later be used against me in some wanton, undemocratic move to rid a country of its dissenters or its non-nationals. I’ve managed to get this far without ever taking to the streets to march in protest against something that sets my teeth on edge and keeps me awake at night, lest my face be captured on camera and my image filed in a folder marked ‘dissenter’. To my shame, I’ve wanted to get along by, well, getting along. I’ve chosen the easy option; I’ve chosen to believe that in everyone, there is some good. And from every government policy, someone will benefit. And although I might not see or understand what lies behind it, I’ve somewhat naively believed that elected officials have the interests of their electorate at heart. But today, I cast aside my naivety. I’m too old, I’ve lived too long, and I’ve seen too much to be able to hide behind it any more.

Standing in solidarity

Today, Tuesday, 13th December 2011, I finally got down off the fence that straddles what is and what might be. Not only did I sign a petition, I forwarded it to everyone I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. Around the world, virtual strangers are opening up their emails and dredging through the annals of their minds in the vain hope of remembering how they know me and why I might be emailing them about the Hare Krishnas in Hungary.

Today, I stood alongside hundreds of others at Kossuth tér in the wintry sun to show my support for the Hare Krishna movement and this latest, completely asinine act by the government to cut off at the knees those who are doing the most good for those less fortunate in our society.

Earlier this year, the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness (HSKCON) was one of many religions that lost its religious status as a ‘recognized church’. Under the provisions of the new Act on Religious Communities, as of 1 January 2012, HSKCON and others should surrender all their property (real estate and arable lands) to those religious communities that have been granted legal status as a recognized church. Figuring out the formula that determines what exactly constitutes a ‘recognized church’ is beyond my basic math and logic. It seems to me to be suspiciously subjective.

Neutered and neutralized

Divested of their ‘wealth’, these religious communities may continue their religious activities as non-governmental organizations but without the right to preach or conduct religious services. What’s the point, one wonders. What’s the point in being allowed to practice medicine as long as you don’t treat any patients? What’s the point in being allowed to play football as long as you don’t score any goals?

HSKCON isn’t the only one to suffer: add to the mix at least two others that I know of – the Buddhists and the Methodist Church – and conspiracy theorists might be justified in thinking that there’s a move afoot to neutralise those who work with the homeless. HSKCON, through its Food for Life programme, feeds 1000 homeless people in Budapest each day. When it can no longer grow the food it needs on its farm in Krishna Valley; when it can no longer rear cows in peace and harmony with nature (a project much lauded in the international environmental community and held in very high regard globally); when it can no longer live the sustainable life envied by so many around the world, what then? Where is the logic here? What am I missing?

Human dignity

I’m an Irish Catholic. I go to mass every Sunday. I try to do good when I can, to be good more often than not, and to give to those less fortunate. I was brought up to believe that Christianity is more than sitting in Church on Sunday and tithing money to the collection plate. It is about feeding your fellow man when he has no food; it’s about sheltering him when he has no home; it’s about giving of yourself when it’s less than convenient. What makes the HSKCON faith, its work, its religion, less legitimate than mine, boggles my mind. When it’s been effectively disposed of by this act, who then will feed the homeless, help the needy, and remind us all that a peaceful life of sustainable living is not just a dream?

Rumour has it that a last-minute reprieve was granted this afternoon by the government that will allow HSKCON keep its land. While this is a very timely Christmas present for so many, its battle for recognition as a religious entity is still to be won. It looks like today was a good day to get down off the fence.

First published in the Budapest Times 16 December 2011

18 Responses

  1. I have attached a favorite John Stuart Mill quote which I think is relevent here: “A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it.”

      1. Dear Mary

        thank you for your effort to show reality in the world in hungary etc
        b u t please note twothousand years of misunderstand christianity lead to this terrible situation everywhere so what is suggest each of us looks to find hisher own TRUTH and gives the best to live accordingly
        that is whay this humble being calls AUTHENTICITY more is not needed what is needed is LOVE in ACTION moment to moment
        b u t love in my sense is not wanting not expecting anything in return
        this love is pure and do not forget the message of your JESHU JESUS
        follow me and leave behind everything family children material just everything thats the message of LOVE since many thousand years ago all over the socalled world yours in LOVE sse hu

        1. Dear SSE hu

          Doing something without the expectation of getting something in return has unfortunately become a rather alien concept in a world where we are taught to expect give and take. And so many of us give for all the wrong reasons – but then, is this any worse than not giving at all? I wonder.

  2. I think there are two fundamentally different issues here: one is (originally unrelated) law that controls ownership of farm land – which hopefully will be changed to allow Hare Krishna to maintain its farmland. I have frequently visited the place and being vegetarian and almost daily user of their restaurants in Bp, so i signed petition for letting Hare Krishna community to keep their wonderful valley. It would be unbelievably injustice for the community to loose it.

    On the hand, another, generally relevant question is if there should be any churches at all in legal sense beyond the main ones? After all the only issue (beside the unfortunate land ownership) is the question of tax contribution (1%) or subsidies from government. Why would any religious group beyond the state church kind of community receive any money from state? Humanitarian work should be donated separately of any religion anyhow. Just because a group is doing humanitarian work why should that has anything to do with being recognized as a religious church?

    What about atheist humanitarian people?

    Even more fundamentally why humanitarian work should receive any official support when work with much bigger problem – animal abuse – receive nothing in any european country if i am not mistaken.

    Government money should be distributed by government channels, private money by private channels.

    Just being curious:
    How many religious groups have right to receive money thru taxation of state funds in Ireland, Uk, Scandinavia? I doubt that it is less than 14 in all of them.

    PS- Any news on the land?

    1. Beyond the ‘main ones’ Tomas – those seem to be the operative words. For ‘main’, if we read ‘big and established’ then there too was a day when they were small and starting up. HSKCON is a relatively new church – established in 1966 – but with huge numbers of followers worldwide. Who is to say that this, or any other church with an established following and a set of beliefs that guide their way of life should not be recognised? If the state subsidises such groups who do ‘good’ and provide services that the State should offer but doesn’t (feeding the homeless) then I don’t see why HSKCON should not be eligible because it is no longer recognised as a church. Doing humanitarian work has nothing to do with being recognised as a religious church… has it? Or am I missing something? From what I understand of the new church law, it grants official status to 14 Christian churches and Jewish congregations but forces all others (including HSKCON) to submit a new registration request and gain approval from a two-thirds majority of lawmakers. I’d like to know what criteria they will use when voting. Any thoughts?

      Mary Murphy

  3. I actually agree that HSKCON should be as good church as any, but that was not the point i tried to make. By the way you can read the law yourself in

    I am pretty sure that there are other ways of receiving money from state for humanitarian (or other purposes) whether you are church or not (as i assume most major humanitarian groups get anyhow support even if they are not churches, like red cross etc). However, i have in principle opinion that humanitarian work should be not supported by government beside official channels (thru government bodies) at all unless done thru commercial oursourcing contracts and preferably there would be no churches this way at all but less is better anyhow as it means less costs for a government that has very little money to start with to do things they are responsible for.

    1. What about the 1% tax that people in Hungary can nominate to give to a church, Tom. Would you consider that government money? I’m not sure how much funding, if any, that HSKCON or any other humanitarian group or church gets from the Gov., so I can’t speak to that. My beef is with the fact that as taxpayers, Hungarian supporters of HSKCON can no longer support them. And I agree totally that the gov has very little money to start with, particularly here in Hungary. The idea that tax should be avoided at all costs is so short-sighted, it hurts. But that seems to be the prevailing sentiment. The question is – how do you change that mentality?

  4. Hi everyone!

    Nice post Mary 🙂
    Tom, in reference to your comments… a few interesting points to reflect on…

    TOM wrote >>On the hand, another, generally relevant question is if there should be any churches at all in legal sense beyond the main ones?

    And why not? And who to decide what are the “main ones” and under which criteria would that decision be made?
    If we look at democratic countries that have greater connection between church and state, say for example the UK and Norway, then we still see that their governments practice and promote freedom of religion, and equality of treatment for practitioners of their chosen faith.
    It’s the basics of democracy… there are diversities of faith, and therefore various religions in society, and democratic governments are seen to cater for them in an equal fashion.
    A few examples:
    From Wikipedia page:
    “As there is no written constitution, there is no constitutional principle of freedom of religious exercise as there is in other countries, such as Germany and the United States. However, under various laws, such as the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010, religious groups are free to associate, worship, promote and publish their views alongside the established churches.”

    From the same Wikipedia page:
    “In Norway, the King is also the leader of the state church, and the 12th article of the Constitution of Norway requires more than half of the members of the Norwegian Council of State to be members of the state church. Yet, the second article guarantees freedom of religion, while also stating that Evangelical Lutheranism is the official state religion.”

    One interesting thing, on his 60th birthday The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, decided to announce that he would, if crowned king, like to change title of the Monarch from “Defender of the Faith” to plain “Defender of Faith”.

    Being from the UK myself, and having just come back last week from Norway I can see that both of these rich multicultural societies serve their citizens with regard to freedom of equality beyond race, religion of any other denomination one may care to think of.
    Otherwise due to my adherence towards another religious belief other than that ordained by the state then I have become a second class citizen?
    Although not definitive, it certainly is one of the hallmarks of a fair governmental system that respects all citizens with equality – again, the basics of democracy.

    TOM wrote >>After all the only issue (beside the unfortunate land ownership) is the question of tax contribution (1%) or subsidies from government.

    There are many other points besides land or even the 1% tax contributions, as Mary quite rightly points out in her post “… these religious communities may continue their religious activities as non-governmental organizations but without the right to preach or conduct religious services.”

    No right to preach / evangelize, nor any right to hold meetings or services for its congregation. That’s scary…
    And it is this kind of thing that is attracting the attention of governments from all over the world to voice concern about the the direction of changes here in Hungary in regards to religious freedoms.

    Interesting point here from the same Wiki page:

    “The Catholic Church teaches, in Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, that all people are entitled to religious freedom and that such freedom should be recognized in constitutional law.”

    “If, under consideration of historical circumstances among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of a society, it is necessary at the same time that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be acknowledged and maintained.”

    TOM wrote >>Why would any religious group beyond the state church kind of community receive any money from state?

    Why not? That’s what equality and democracy is all about.
    If there is a law passed so that religious groups are deemed a certain benefit, then why not all religious groups equally?…. according to the amount of members it has. Wouldn’t that be more equal?

    >>TOM What about atheist humanitarian people?

    “Some people with what would be considered religious or spiritual beliefs call themselves atheists.”

    I was thinking about this a few months ago actually. If I was a savvy atheist and I knew that there we benefits on offer if as a group were registered as a religion then I certainly would create my own 🙂

    Funny, having just written that I just saw this on the BBC website:

    >>Sweden recognises new file-sharing religion Kopimism. A “church” whose central tenet is the right to file-share has been formally recognised by the Swedish government

    Wishing you all the best for 2012,
    Caitanya Candra das

  5. Thanks for extensive comments, i don’t claim to have ‘truth’ of anything, and i did not want to sound like arguing or being confrontational, there were just my opinions – which are partially influenced by the fact that i consider humanitarian work less important than animal activism – however, i do come myself from scandinavia and as you say, we do have state churces (one in Norway and Sweden, two in Finland) but there is freedom of religion. As far as i know, we do not even have a concept like “state recognized” church so i am bit surprised by the bbc news.

    Humanitarian work is subsidized independently of its link to religion which is to me the only right way, that’s why i think it is strange to have even 14 churches. My understanding of the background of the law is that partially it was drafted by the minority party (actually if you read the discussions in hungarian newspapers, most members of Fidesz were pretty upset of the collection of the “official churches” but between the governmental parties this was agreed to be responsibilty of the minority party The main target is to cut down government expenses, especially as there were suspicion of several “churches” being used as money collection vehicles (actually worth noting is that PM himself is not catholic…)

    If you read the law in detail, it has nothing to do with having religious activities, so i think this is misunderstanding or myth circulated in the internet. The first paragraph specifically mentions that there is full freedom of religion. If this really would be forbidden i would agree as well it to be against basic human rights, but at least i saw hare krishna temple last weekend fully active. Hopefully my understanding is right.

    The whole fuss is about money, and easy money in this case. As usual.

    I would recommend reading the law yourself instead of relying on the rumours.

    The problem for this law and its pretty arbitary classification of “churces” is that it equals official church as part of public sector (read the text, it is quite detailed in terms of salaries, “right” to receive public money etc). In Scandinavia there are exactly one (or in case of Finland) two churches treated like this – any nobody has ever said that Scandinavia is bad in human rights (just the opposite actually). No other “church” is treated like part of public sector (in principle lutherian church is part of state not separate organisation at all).

    I doubt that this law means that for legimitate humanitarian work you would not be able to get governmeng grants the same way that non -religious organisations have been able to get, not as automatic mechanism but based on application (this is the way it works in Scandinavia as well). I find it pretty annyoing actually that any religious group gets money by taxation before non-religious group (either via 1% or otherwise) – for me this is again freedom of religion as it treats non-religious people as second class citizens. For me there should be 0 official churces or at most 2 for Hungary (or 3 if you consider jewism as church). I cannot understand why any religious group should receive 1 % as non religious groups cannot as churches.

    By the way, i am lutherian as most scandinavians, but i do believe strongly in freedom of religion and that non-religious people should have same rights as religious and this law still is unsatisfactory for me in this respect – but it is step towards right direction.

    I used to be involved in humanitarian work for homeless people until i get bit disillusioned with it and nowadays fully dedicate my charity to most urgent and neglected part of society – treatment of animals and animal rights. Unfortunately we don’t have even hope to be considered a church – ever.

  6. You are right, i have been donating my money with 1 % long time already (and it works the same way in neighbouring countries as well, like Slovakia). It is not only animal protection but almost any charity organisation, also those non-religious homeless people organisations etc. However (like e.g. in Slovakia) it is 1 + 1 %, meaning you can dedicate 1 % to “a church” and another 1 % to a charity. For me this first 1 % should not be there, if there would be total freedom of religion, or it should be only 2 or most three options (catholic and protestant). In scandinavia, to compare, it works this way: if you are member of lutherian church (or orthodox church in finland), automatically part of your taxation goes to church, if you are not member of church nothing goes to church. The church uses the money for whatever they want (like the 1% in hungary – they pay priests salaries, build churches, do charity, send missionaries to africa etc). So none of the other “churches” gets any tax at all ever. They can apply for government money but that is not because they are “church” and it does not come automatically but based on assessment of the value of the organisation (and not only in terms of humanitarian work, e.g. boy/girl scouts are biggest receiver of government money in finland if i remember statistics correctly, after – guess what – political parties’ youth associations 🙂 )

    . As far as i know, nobody has ever claimed that scandinavia is breaking human rights or religious freedom with this?

    However, at least in Scandinavia, beside state church, all others are equal, as they are equal with non-religious groups. And that is my whole concern: why an earth any religious group (even Hare Krishna) should have benefit that non religious groups do not have? They have organisation that needs to paid for and that organisation can help at least as many people in need than any church, even if they would not believe in God, Allah, Buddha or whoever.

    As far as i can see, the whole debate is all about the money – eternal topic that can be sold as “human rights”, “freedom of religion” or whatever if needed – especially if you are one of the losing ones, although it is – just what it is, money.

  7. Tome wrote>>However, at least in Scandinavia, beside state church, all others are equal, as they are equal with non-religious groups. And that is my whole concern: why an earth any religious group (even Hare Krishna) should have benefit that non religious groups do not have?

    Oh… I see your point now Tom.

    1% for churches or no 1% for churches…
    Regardless, the Hare Krishna devotees would still have been making their voice heard – that they had, from one moment to the next, lost their status as a “recognized religion” thus loosing the legal right to preach and congregate… alongside other things.
    HSKCON was a “recognized religion” in Hungary way long before 1% came into existence. The same voice of concern would have been staged if a similar situation had arisen pre 1%-for-churches era.
    The goal of becoming a “recognized religion” is a constitutional / legal matter rather than financial….

    The whole debate isn’t about money…
    Atmavan manyate jagat – we see the world through our own perspective.
    If someones perspective is money then that is how a situation is perceived – that’s fine, we are all free to perceive things in whatever way we like…
    I am a non-paid congregational teacher here in Hungary with HSKCON since 1992… so the above is just my limited perspective on the issue 🙂

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