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Hungary Court Voids Church Law in Latest Orban Setback

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s Constitutional Court struck down a law that stripped at least 17 churches of state recognition in the latest defeat for Premier Viktor Orban’s drive to overhaul the country’s laws and institutions.

The justices said giving lawmakers the exclusive right to determine whether a church meets criteria for state recognition makes the regulation prone to politicized decisions and fails to provide for legal redress, according to the ruling posted on the Budapest-based court’s website today.

Since winning elections in 2010 with an unprecedented two-thirds majority, Orban pushed through a new constitution over opposition protests and extended his influence over independent institutions such as the judiciary, while overhauling basic laws ranging from labor to elections.

To narrow justices’ room for interpretation, Orban’s party has proposed barring the high court from citing rulings and reasonings previous to the new constitution. Decisions cited legislation dating back to the 19th century defending judicial independence in striking down a law that forced hundreds of judges into early retirement.

A constitutional amendment proposed by Orban’s ruling Fidesz party earlier this month includes allowing limits on campaign ads outside of public media, giving the chief prosecutor the right to pick judges for cases, restricting the definition of a family to marriage and criminalizing the homeless who live on the streets -- all laws the court voided in recent rulings.

“We have to be cautious so that we don’t give the appearance that there is a prestige or political dispute between the Constitutional Court and the executive or Parliament,” Orban said in a HirTV interview yesterday. “I urge everyone to be cautious.”

Last month, the court struck down a mandatory voter-registration law that would have “unduly” limited the right to vote in 2014 elections. Last week, the court voided a ban on Nazi and communist symbols, saying the law prohibiting them was “too general and insufficiently clear.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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