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State of the Community of Non-denominational Citizens in the Czech Republic

According to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which is a part of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, all nondenominational citizens have the following rights and freedoms:

Chapter One, Article 1: All people are free and equal in their dignity and in their rights. Their fundamental rights and freedoms are inherent, inalienable, unlimitable, and unrepealable.

Chapter One, Article 2 (1): The State is founded on democratic values and must not be bound either by an exclusive ideology or by a particular religion.

Chapter Two, Article 15 (1): Freedom of thought, conscience and religious conviction is guaranteed. Everybody has the right to change his or her religion or faith, or to have no religious conviction.

Chapter Two, Article 20 (1): The right to associate freely is guaranteed. Everybody has the right to associate with others in clubs, societies and other associations.

According to the preliminary results of this year's census published in June, 32% of the population of the Czech Republic `profess' allegiance to some church or religious community (29% of these `profess' Roman Catholic Church). In comparison with the census undertaken in 1991 this means a decrease of 15% and for the Roman Catholic Church a loss of 1.2 million believers. However, `to profess' something does not mean „to be" something or `not to be' something. If 32% of citizens `profess' some church or religious community, it does not mean that 68% of Czech population are just atheist. It only means that 68% of citizens declare absolute freedom of conscience, unrestricted by any explicit confession of faith or by identity with any religious community.

There are two reasons for this situation in which the Czech Republic is seen as the most `atheistic' country of Europe (which is a simplification of the problem). The first reason is historical. The martyr death of Jan Hus on 6 July 1415 at the Roman Catholic council convened in Constance  started the Czech Reformation, which reached its climax in the 17th century when about 90% of the population professed reformed and evangelical creeds. The violent Counter-Reformation that followed was, to borrow the words of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, a horrible event not just in the history of the Czech nation but the in the history of mankind as well. Thus the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 meant liberation from the oppression by the Habsburg coalition with the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church. The second reason for this situation was that the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church took advantage of the renewal of democracy in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and used it for the satisfaction of their material needs. As a result all the realties formerly owned by the society were transformed into private church property. The expertise prepared by the Faculty of Law of Charles University reached the conclusion that the so-called restitution of church property was in fact a donation of realties by the state to churches and religious communities.

The Czech Republic is a state with deep humanistic, Freethought and democratic traditions. Yet, while the Roman Catholic Church functioned without interruption throughout the 20th century, the humanistic and free-thinker's associations were suppressed three times. For the first time in 1914 at the outset of World War I, for the second time in 1939 when Czechoslovakia was forced to split up, and for the third time in 1952, despite the protests of the Union of Non-denominational Citizens. In all three cases, the property of all these associations, including prosperous publishing houses, were confiscated.

Following the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly as item No. 53/144 from 8 March 1999, we are entitled to express the following substantial criticism of present state policy of the Czech Republic towards non-denominational citizens:

I.) The Czech Republic ignores the existence of associations of nondenominational citizens (citizens indifferent toward religion and atheist) by not granting them any legal and financial support for the upkeep and cultivation of their specific culture and their spiritual needs. It also slights all humanistic organisations and associations by placing them within the competence of the Department of Home Affairs, while the Department of Culture registers churches and religious associations.

II.) More than two thirds of the cost of churches and religious associations are covered by the taxes of non-denominational citizens. The state offers generous support to church schools, training of priests and church officials at state schools and universities, running of cult building, activity of church representatives in the army, police and in prisons, as well as to activities of church officials in public media. The expenses of these activities are drawn not just from the budget of the Department of Culture (e.g. 635 millions crowns - Kč - for the salaries of 3651 priests in this year), but also from the budgets of other Departments and of municipalities. Programmes for citizens without religious affiliation are virtually absent in public media. At the same time the Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly claimed exceptional, privileged place in society, thus discriminating other, especially evangelical churches with more democratic interior organisation, which are made subservient to ecumenism led by the Roman Catholic Church.

III) In this way the whole of society is under the pressure of state financed religious indoctrination, which is to be found in all spheres of public life: in science, in schools, in art, in culture, in health care, in public administration etc. Thus the equal treatment of citizens (as required by the laws of the state) is being violated.

IV) In the Czech Republic nearly 70 % of the population are without religious confession, and therefore the majority of citizens suffer from discrimination in the way described above. At the same time this discrimination is financed by their own taxes. The result is a situation in which the civil majority (non-denominational citizens) is under the pressure from those with different viewpoints, especially the Roman Catholic Church, without being allowed to cultivate the needs of the community of non-denominational citizens by means of public funds, which should be available to all. The rights of the community of citizens without religious affiliation, are further endangered by the bill of churches and religious associations that is currently under discussion.

V) International organisations monitoring the observance of human and civic rights have taken no notice so far of the underprivileged status of the community of non-denominational citizens in the Czech Republic.

VI) The State authorities in the Czech Republic (the Department of Culture in particular) refuse the legitimate claims  of citizens without religious confession for parity with churches and religious communities. Today, further laws are being prepared that will create a privileged status for Roman Catholic Church. Supported by the prepared state treaty with the Vatican, the state authorities more than ever before meet the wishes of the prelates of especially the Roman Catholic Church, while making it obvious that they mean to continue to ignore the community of non-denominational citizens.

In our view, the situation can be improved by the following measures: 

  1. An organ (ideally supervised by the Prime Minister) has to be established that would provide for the needs of not just churches and religious communities, but the needs of the community of non-denominational citizens as well
  2.  

  3. A law has to be prepared or the constitution amended to the effect that any discrimination of the community of non-denominational citizens is ruled out and that these citizens enjoy equal rights as the communities of religious citizens.
  4.  
  5.     In all public media of both national and regional importance editors should be appointed who will take charge of programmes aimed at communities of non-denominational citizens,  probably in co-operation with existing religious broadcast editors.

    4. University training of priests has to be separated from public schools and universities and has to be financed not from public funds but entirely from the resources of churches and religious communities. Training in religious studies is virtual religious indoctrination and should not be financed by the Ministry of Education, but from the funds of churches and religious communities, but not from the state budget.

  1. Education in religion should either be transferred entirely from primary and secondary schools into institutions run by churches and religious communities, or there should be programmes and textbooks prepared for humanistic ethics as an alternative to religious education, as is the case in advenced  democracies.
  2. Spiritual service in the army, police, and in prisons should be entirely freed from religious indoctrination and entrusted into the hands of university-educated pedagogues and psychologists.
  3. .
  4. Religious indoctrination should be excluded from social and health facilities, since it may expose patients and clients to unwanted and forced proselytising. In addition, some dogmatic policies of the Roman Catholic Church may influence the patients, thereby limiting the patient’s freedom of choice when making important decisions about their own health and treatment.

  5. In view of the nearly 70 % majority of non-denominational citizens, humanistic and ethical associations should be financed proportionally in the same way as churches and religious organisations, unless churches are separated from the state, as is the case in advanced democracies. It has to be emphasised that as far as the relations between the state and spiritual communities (including the community of non-denominational citizens) are concerned, there should be  no exceptions whatsoever in favour of giving any advantages to a selected group of citizens, and that even in this area international treaties and agreements have absolute priority before the national legislative.

  6. Communities of non-denominational citizens should be invited to co-operate in the preparation of basic national laws and international treaties, so that the Roman Catholic Church instead of its exceptional, privileged place in society is granted equal status as the other denominations and the non- denominational citizens.

Conclusions

The policy of state authorities of the Czech Republic discriminates against the community of non-denominational citizens (which form the majority of the population), thus contravening the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which is a part of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, as well as international law which safeguards equality of all citizens without distinction, of citizens both with and without religious confession. A more detailed analysis would show that it is particularly the atheists who are subject to discrimination

The activity of especially the executive power violates human rights of the non-denominational community to maintain and develop its cultural identity. The state has created conditions, which block and even paralyse the development of specific cultural life of the community of non-denominational citizens. By treating communities of citizens without religious affiliation differently from those with religious affiliation, the state discriminated against the majority of civic society in the Czech Republic. Before the Czech Republic enters the European Union, it is necessary to remove the discrepancies between its internal national legal rules and the priority norms of international law to the community of non-denominational citizens (which forms the majority of the population) by securing them parity as compared with the minority groups of religious citizens.

 

Free Thought of the Czech Republic

Humanistic and Ethical Union of Non-denominational Citizens


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