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Historical survey

First important dates

The Constitution, act No. 1/1993, begins with the words: "We, the citizens of the Czech Republic in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, at this time of the reconstitution of an independent Czech State, (...)

The Constitution, act No. 1/1993, begins with the words: "We, the citizens of the Czech Republic in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, at this time of the reconstitution of an independent Czech State, true to all the sound traditions of the ancient statehood of the Lands of the Crown of Bohemia as well as of Czechoslovak statehood, resolved to build, protect and advance the Czech Republic in the spirit of the inalienable values of human dignity and freedom as the home of equal and free citizens who are aware of their obligations towards others and of their responsibility to the community, as a free and democratic State..."
The first historical inhabitants of Czech lands (Čechy/Bohemia, Morava/Moravia and Slezsko/Czech Silesia) were Celtic. The Celtic tribe of Boii gave its name to both Latin expressions: "Čechy" – "Boiohemium, Bohemia". After the short era of Germanic Markomanns’ settlement in the 5th Century, the West–Slavonic ethnics penetrated the Territory during the 6th century.
A West Slavonic settlement in the territory of the present Czech lands accepted Christianity, during the 9th century, under the influence of the Irish, Franconian and Greek-Slavonic missions - in the first State of Czechs and Slovaks, the Great Moravian Empire.
The later Czech (Bohemian) principality and kingdom, ruled by dukes and kings, since the 10th century holders of the St Wenceslas Crown, entered into a free union with the Holy Roman Empire. There were four dynasties on the Bohemian throne: Premyslides, Luxemburgs, Jagellons and Habsburgs.

D 9 October 2012    AZáboj Horák

Reformation

From the Hussite Reformation at the beginning of the 15th century, there were two recognised denominations in the Kingdom: the Catholic minority and the Utraquist (Calixtin) majority. During the (...)

From the Hussite Reformation at the beginning of the 15th century, there were two recognised denominations in the Kingdom: the Catholic minority and the Utraquist (Calixtin) majority. During the 16th century, the Utraquist Church came under Lutheran Protestant influence.
Recatholicisation after the Battle of the White Mountain (1620) was connected with the victorious House of Habsburg. Protestantism was forbidden. The unification of the Czech lands with the Austrian and other hereditary Habsburg lands followed. The sovereign of this union established the iura maiestica circa sacra. Through this, the Catholic Church lost an essential part of its autonomy.
Josef II published his Letter of Tolerance for his hereditary lands in 1781. 2% of the inhabitants of the Czech lands professed Protestantism: either the Helvetic Confession (the majority) or the Augsburg Confession.

D 12 October 2012    AZáboj Horák

Religious emancipation

A process of emancipation of the religious communities from the State started in 1848.
In December 1867 a new liberal Constitution came into being for the Cisleithan Regions of the Empire. The (...)

A process of emancipation of the religious communities from the State started in 1848.

In December 1867 a new liberal Constitution came into being for the Cisleithan Regions of the Empire. The basis of this Constitution was a secularised State, based on the principle of cooperation with religious communities, and on their parity. The right to be recognised by the State was given to all religious communities which respected its legal demands (1874). The newly recognised religious communities, such as Old Catholic Church and Moravian Brethren (Herrnhut Church) could join in teaching religion in public schools and taking religious services in the army. The stipends of priests, pastors and rabbis were financed partly by the religious communities and partly by the State (congrua or subsidies). The acknowledged religious communities were supported by the State in proportion to the number of official declarations of religious affiliation made to the municipalities.

The Republic of Czechoslovakia, founded in 1918 with the dissolution of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, adopted the legislation of the Habsburg monarchy.

From 1920 the Constitution declared the freedom of religion to individuals. Children who belonged to religious communities were obliged to attend lessons in religious education in public schools.

Because the suffering of people during the World War I was high and Catholic Church was accused of having too close a relationship with the Habsburg dynasty, more than 20% of the Czech people gave up their membership of the Catholic Church. Approximately one half of them founded the new Czechoslovak Church, a smaller part converted to Protestantism, and a much smaller group to Eastern Orthodoxy. The rest became non denominational. A total of 75% of the Czech people remained nevertheless in the Roman Catholic Church.

On 17th December 1918 the Czech Protestants of Augsburg and Helvetic confessions unified to the Evangelic Church of Czech Brethren. Legal order of this Church is presbyterian.

On 8th January 1920 the Czechoslovak Church was founded by 150 catholic priests. This Church unites both Catholic and Protestant aspects of worship and teaching and emphasizes the spiritual connection with revived Hussite tradition. This Church has used the name "The Czechoslovak Hussite Church" since 1971.

In 1927 a modus vivendi was concluded between the representatives of the Czechoslovak Government and the Apostolic See. It concerned all the processes of the appointment of diocesan bishops in Czechoslovakia.

D 12 October 2012    AZáboj Horák

Nazi occupation and communist phase

During the Nazi occupation of 1939-1945, Catholics in the Czech lands actively participated in the resistance against the Nazis; being persecuted by Nazis justified them in the minds of Czech (...)

During the Nazi occupation of 1939-1945, Catholics in the Czech lands actively participated in the resistance against the Nazis; being persecuted by Nazis justified them in the minds of Czech people. After World War II, in the time of renewed democracy between 1945 and 1948, religious communities became popular in Czech society, and religious freedoms were as they had been before 1939. The limitation of the democracy by the rule of only four political parties united into the so called National Front did not limit the religious freedom.

A radical change came after the Communist coup d’état in February 1948. All spheres of public life had to accept the "scientific", i.e. the Marxist, ideology including atheism.

In the years 1948-1989, atheism played the role of a State "religion".

Religious communities became the only alternatively thinking institutions whose existence was slightly tolerated. The ultimate aim of the regime was, of course, the entire liquidation of religious communities.

New Acts establishing State control over the Churches came into force on November 1st 1949. That legislation brought obligatory but very low stipends for clergy, paid by the State regardless of the wishes of the religious communities. Any religious activity of clergy or lay preachers needed State permission, which was granted only for a geographically limited territory. This State permission could be revoked without explanation. Offences under this Act were punishable with imprisonment according to the provisions of the Penal Codes of 1950 and 1961.

Obligatory civil marriage was established in January 1950 for the first time in the history of the Czech lands.

In April 1950 all the monasteries were seized and the brothers interned without legal justification for several months. Later they were sent to forced labour units for three or four years and then dispersed as workers. From August 1950 convents of sisters were sent to camps in the remote border regions; they were not allowed to admit novices, and were obliged to work in factories. This state of affairs lasted until 1989.

Also during 1950, all Church schools and seminaries were abolished. The training of clergy was provided at only three State theological faculties (one for Catholics, one for Protestants, one for the Czechoslovak Church) and with a limited number of admissions.

Hundreds of activists of most religious communities were sentenced in framed processes to thousands years of imprisonements in the 1950s. Almost all the Catholic bishops were imprisoned or interned.

In spite of that, religious education in school was an obligatory subject for all children members of religious communities until 1953. Since that year it has been permitted only as a voluntary subject; there was a move to have it removed from schools altogether, and children attending religious education lessons were discriminated against.

D 12 October 2012    AZáboj Horák

Prague Spring and clandestine religion

Only at the time of "the Prague Spring liberalisation" 1968 and even some months after the Soviet occupation of 21st August 1968 could the religious sisters in the border camps admit a number of (...)

Only at the time of "the Prague Spring liberalisation" 1968 and even some months after the Soviet occupation of 21st August 1968 could the religious sisters in the border camps admit a number of novices. The number of children attending the voluntary religious education classes increased at that time, and their presence there did not provoke adverse consequences for them. Monks began to work underground.

However, from 1971 the persecution of religious communities was revived. All religious communities, especially the Catholic Church, became symbols of resistance during the communist regime. They created many underground activities, founded secret religious and lay groups, organized unofficial theological trainings (flat seminars) and ordinations, printed the religious literature. They were supported by all dissidents, and on the other hand many Catholic and Protestant priests and laymen took part in the civic resistence movement Charter 77.

In July 1985 both the official and underground Catholics organized a pilgrimage in Moravian Velehrad. In presence of the State Secretary of the Holy See and the Czech Minister of Culture, about 250 000 Catholics manifestated their desire for freedom.
In 1988 a Moravian railwayman prepared a petition for Religious Liberties in 31 articles. With the consent of the Prague Archbishop, it was signed by 650 000 Czechoslovak citizens.
Many protest actions were prepared in the time of the canonization of the Blessed Agnes of Bohemia (1989).

D 12 October 2012    AZáboj Horák

End of the communist era, towards an independant State

On 17th November 1989, the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Czech universities by the Nazis, communist police brutally interrupted the students’ commemorative procession in Prague.
The (...)

On 17th November 1989, the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Czech universities by the Nazis, communist police brutally interrupted the students’ commemorative procession in Prague.

The events, later called the "Velvet Revolution", were followed by the whole of Czechoslovakia. 10th December 1989 may be called a day of upheaval. On that day the last Communist president appointed a non communist government. The following day, he resigned. The Government voted for a policy of legal continuity and of value discontinuity between the new and old regimes.

Parliament abolished the legal enactments that were contrary to human rights. The Act of 13th December 1989 abolished the anti Church enactments of the Penal Code.

In January 1990 the legal provision allowing State interference in the appointment of clergy, preachers and all Churches’ employees was abolished.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Liberties, passed by the Parliament of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR) on 9th January 1991, confirmed this principle. On its foundations was built the Federal Act No. 308/1991 dealing with the freedom of religion and the status of Churches and religious societies. The time of its validity in the Czech territory (1991-2002) may be considered as the foremost period of religious freedom in history.

The legal order of the Czech Republic, founded on 1st January 1993 as an independent State, has incorporated the principles of the state ecclesiastical law of the CSFR.

D 12 October 2012    AZáboj Horák

Recent changes in law of religions

In the Czech Republic, Act No. 308/1991 Sb. has been replaced by Act No. 3/2002 Sb. of 7 January 2002, on Freedom of Religion and the Position of Churches and Religious Societies (Act on Churches (...)

In the Czech Republic, Act No. 308/1991 Sb. has been replaced by Act No. 3/2002 Sb. of 7 January 2002, on Freedom of Religion and the Position of Churches and Religious Societies (Act on Churches and Religious Societies). The Act is based on the same, unchanged constitutional principles, but it solves some particular problems in a different and more detailed way. The Act liberalizes the process of registration of religious communities and introduces a two-degree registration with the concept of "special rights" for the higher degree of registration, which therefore limited some religious freedoms. The Act was subject to a reference to the Czech Constitutional Court. The Court’s Opinion, published under Number 4/2003 Sb., repealed some provisions of the Act (concerning in particular the registration of charities and other ecclesiastical bodies) as unconstitutional. But it did not repeal the two-degree registration and the concept of "special rights".

Between 1999 and 2002, representatives of the Czech Republic and the Apostolic See prepared an international agreement which was signed by both parties in July 2002. But on 21 May 2003 the House of Deputies of the Parliament voted by a majority of 110 votes of the total of 200 members not to recommend its ratification. The political situation was not favourable. The concordat did not enter into force, but it was not repealed. The proposal for such a recommendation may be resubmitted at a more favourable time.

An important change was brought by Act No. 428/2012 Sb. of 8 November 2012, on Property Settlement with Churches and Religious Societies and to Amend Certain Other Laws. The act came into force on 1 January 2013. The Act combines restitution in kind of property appropriated from religious communities from 25 February 1948 until the end of 1989, and financial compensation for non-restored property. It gradually cancels the paying of stipends by the state, thereby introducing the financial independence of religious communities. The Act is implemented step by step.

Further information: TRETERA, Jiří Rajmund, HORÁK, Záboj, Religion and Law in the Czech Republic. Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer, 2014.

D 17 October 2016    AZáboj Horák

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