press release

Lantos Foundation Chair Calls on Hungary to Defend Academic Freedom

April 10, 2017
For Immediate Release
Contact: Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett
(603) 226-3636

Mrs. Annette Lantos, Chair of the Lantos Foundation and the widow of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, today issued an open letter to the people of Hungary decrying controversial legislation that targets the prestigious Central European University for closure. Late last week, Mrs. Lantos sent a letter to the President of Hungary urging him to use his power to prevent the law from taking effect. It is reported that President Ader signed the law earlier today.

The Budapest born Mrs. Lantos describes CEU as "an outstanding, world class academic institution" and a "jewel in Hungary's crown". In her open message she calls upon the Hungarian people to defend academic freedom and the values of a free society.

Dear Hungary,

I write to you today as one of your daughters, who was fortunate to be born and raised in the incomparable city of Budapest. When just a teenager, I was forced to leave my Hungarian home during the terrible days of the Holocaust. I was blessed to find refuge and a new home in my adopted country, the United States of America. Despite all that had happened, neither I nor my late husband Tom Lantos ever lost our deep love for our native land. During the nearly three decades that he served in the U.S. Congress, Hungary had no greater friend in America.

We rejoiced in 1989 when Hungary overcame decades of Soviet rule to become an independent democracy. We also rejoiced when Budapest became the home of Central European University (CEU) – an outstanding, world class academic institution that brought respect and great prestige to the country we love.

You can imagine, then, that I am heartbroken by the recent decision of the government to target this distinguished university with unfounded attacks and threats of closure. I am also very disappointed by the decision of President Ader to sign this ill–conceived legislation into law. Why would the Hungarian government invite controversy and condemnation through this action and jeopardize a successful 23 year academic partnership with a respected American university? It is frankly baffling and illogical. Were my husband still alive, I know he would be speaking out forcefully against these actions. Though I am nearly 86 and a great grandmother many times over, I feel I must do the same.

The glory of any nation is its willingness to honor the past while simultaneously sustaining freedom and embracing the future. CEU represents these shining goals. It embodies the ideals of free, robust, and exacting academic inquiry and it has become the training academy for some of the best and brightest future leaders in Hungary, Europe, and the world. Truly, it is a jewel in Hungary's crown and it would be a tragic mistake to pluck it out and cast it aside. I know that millions of Hungarians agree with me about this and I was heartened to see so many thousands of you take to the streets just a few days ago to voice your support for the continued ability of CEU to be part of Hungary’s rich academic tradition. 

Now more than ever, it is up to the people of Hungary to defend this bastion of learning and liberty and to persuade your government to reconsider this misguided policy. Your fellow countrymen and the world will salute your determination to do so.

Mrs. Annette Lantos
Chair, Lantos Foundation

Lantos Foundation Defends the American Tradition of No Religious Test for Office

The Lantos foundation is non-profit non-partisan organization and as such does not take positions on political candidates. However, as a human rights organization that seeks to advance the robust protection of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief, we feel it is important for us to speak out on the recent discussion of whether or not a Muslim American should hold the office of President of the United States. 

In many ways religious freedom is the well spring from which many of our other cherished human rights flow. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association –all of these hinge upon a rights frame work that honors and upholds the fundamental right of freedom of religion. The framers of our constitution understood the importance of protecting the right of all citizens of whatever faith or belief to participate fully and equally in the life of our society. Not only is this belief enshrined in the first amendment to the Bill of Rights, but equally importantly it is spelled out in Article V Paragraph 3 of the Constitution. There it states with utter clarity that, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” 

At the time of America’s founding, such forward thinking and visionary ideas about religious freedom and equality were rare.  The subsequent centuries have borne out the wisdom of our founders in establishing a Republic where the separation of church and state, the full and free exercise of religion, and the equality of all before the law is robustly defended. In many ways this historically unique American formulation has been the key to our remarkable success as a society, and we have seen it emulated in constitutional charters and human rights documents around the globe. Furthermore, we can see the disastrous consequences in the form of religious repression and persecution, brutal sectarian violence, and instability in societies that fail to provide strong protection for this fundamental human right.

That is why it was so distressing to hear comments suggesting that a faithful Muslim would not be welcome to serve as President of the United States. Not only do these comments reflect a profound misunderstanding of the US Constitution and our national traditions, but they represent an egregious slander against the Muslim faith and against millions of patriotic Muslim American citizens. This is unacceptable.

We encourage all those who would seek the highest office in the land to live by and defend our first freedom –the freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. Furthermore, we would hope that in their communications and indeed in their conduct that they would seek to reflect our nation’s most honored values of liberty, justice and equality for all.