July 22, 2011: The right to freedom of religion has been core to the Sikh belief since the very dawn of our faith. Sikhs pride themselves in protecting the right to religious freedom for all people, especially for minorities, and are a religious minority in every country they live. It is unfortunate that the Hungarian Parliament adopted a new law that discriminates against minority religions and infringes on European and international human rights standards. As Sikhs it is our duty to oppose religious discrimination and support human rights around the world.
The new Hungarian Religion Law de-registers over 300 minority religions, leaving associated rights and concessions to only fourteen faiths. To regain their status as religions, organizations now need to undergo an administrative and legislative process – the most burdensome in the OSCE region – which culminates in a parliamentary vote requiring a two thirds majority to pass.
Establishing a parliament as the authority to recognize a religion’s legitimacy ignores international standards of religious impartiality and neutrality. It reduces the recognition process to a political function that, depending on the political climate at any given time, will subject religious minorities to unchecked discrimination. While it will likely be possible for Sikhs to re-register as the world’s fifth largest religion, many religious minorities may now end up not receiving any recognition whatsoever.
In the midst of celebrating Hungary’s break from its Soviet past the government is showing contempt for core values associated with freedom of religion. It is now up to a Constitutional Court or alternately the European Court of Human Rights to require Hungary to comply with established human rights standards.
Simran Singh Stuelpnagel is a native of Hamburg, Germany. He spent 10 years living at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India and currently resides in Washington, DC, where he works as a Director for Akal Security. He is a Member of the Board of Directors for both Miri Piri Academy and The Institute on Religion and Public Policy and is an Ambassador for Sikh Dharma.