Photo: TASR

The socialist regime in Czechoslovakia guaranteed the religious freedom

Facts and disproval of the myth ↓

The regime guaranteed the freedom of belief already in the 9 May 1948 Constitution and Article 32 of Part Two of the 1960 Constitution of the CSSR reads: “The freedom of belief is guaranteed. Everyone may profess any religion or be an atheist and may carry out religious practices unless it contradicts law.” But before that, Article 16 of Part One of the Constitution reads: “The entire cultural policy in Czechoslovakia, education development, upbringing and teaching shall be carried out in the spirit of the scientific philosophy of life, Marxism-Leninism, and in close interconnection with the life and work of the people.” 

Since there was no constitutional court in Czechoslovakia until the fall of communism, the dialectics of those two articles of the constitution fell under the competence of communist lords or secret service officers. 

The reality was totally different from the constitution. Based on the thesis labelling religion as “opium of the people”, churches were persecuted, and priests were imprisoned and imposed heavy sentences under the hardest conditions in camps such as the Jáchymov uranium mine. Church orders and schools were closed, religious education was restricted, the freedom of religious media was suppressed, and the media were censored. 

In the seventies and the eighties, churches, and primarily the Catholic Church, were becoming very active particularly due to the election of John Paul II as the pope. Publication of samizdats started, night adorations for young people were organized during pilgrimages, the Voice of America started broadcasting and informed about various activities of the church and the state against the church, and petitions to defend the persecuted appeared. Pilgrimages were attended by masses (150 000 believers visited Velehrad in 1985). The religious freedom petition was signed by 500 000 people. The most important event within which the fight for religious freedoms was combined with the fight for civil freedoms was so called Candle Manifestation held on 24 March 1988 that was organized by Ján Čarnogurský and František Mikloško, as the main actors, and became the herald of November 1989 (more in chapter 1.4 Religion and faith).