THE PERSECUTION OF O. BRILIENE, A TEACHER
In October, 1969, photographs of the First Communion of teacher [Mrs.] O. Brilienė's children fell by chance into the hands of [Mrs.] Kerušauskienė, a teacher at the secondary school in Vilkaviškis. Kerušauskienė handed them over to Cekanavičius, the principal of the school. Immediately, a closed meeting of the school's Party members was called, after which teacher Brilienė was ordered to present a written explanation. The teacher confirmed that these were her family photographs; and basing her stand on Lenin's ideas, she suggested that they should not interfere in internal familial matters. Harassment began: daily cleanliness inspections of Brilienė's classroom and of how she conducted her classes. It all made a bad impression on the inspectors, although until then Brilienė had not once been reprimanded.
One day a hearing was organized.
"Well then, Briliene, do you believe in God, or don't you?" asked the principal.
"Yes, I do believe," she calmly answered.
The members of the commission began to explain that it was not fitting for a college graduate to believe in God, that one should resign from school if one is unwilling to renounce his faith, etc. They threatened the teacher with a review by the education department in front of all the teachers of the rayon, and so on.
"For a teacher to publicly profess his faith is a terrible thing," spoke the principal.
"How undignified it is for a teacher who has worked in the school for twenty-one years to be a believer! Where is your conscience!" thus spoke the teacher [Mrs.] Blazaitienė, wanting to ingratiate herself with the principal.
They tried to humiliate teacher Brilienė: "So, do you also believe in life after death?"
The teachers had been very disgusted with teacher Kerušauskienė's action in informing about the photographs, but after they were upbraided by the principal for being "incognizant," their attitude began to change.
The photographs were returned after Brilienė sent a written complaint to the USSR Ministry of Public Education.
In May, 1970, a special faculty meeting was convened, during which teacher Brilienė's behavior was to be considered.
"I have always been and remain a deeply religious person. I go to church because that is my duty. I have always gone to church, but secretly. Now I have no reason to hide my actions since this matter is known to all," spoke Brilienė at the meeting.
In their statements the teachers stressed that Brilienė was a good person and teacher, but because of her faith, she was unfit for pedagogical work. After the meeting some of the teachers apologized to teacher Brilienė. It was evident—many had spoken out of fear, having been forced to do so. At the conclusion of the meeting, the principal moved that they vote that teacher Brilienė was not suited for pedagogy. Several of the women teachers did not vote, and because of that they were berated by the principal.
In June, 1970, at a meeting of the school's local committee of the teachers union there was a discussion of the fate of teacher Brilienė. Chairman Girdauskas read a memorandum from the head of the Education Department of Vilkaviškis Rayon asking the committee to approve the dismissal of teacher Brilienė from work. All of the participants declared that the religious teacher Brilienė could not work in the school. She explained: "By deliberating about me because of my convictions, you are violating the laws of the Soviet Union." To this the principal replied that, by believing in God, she was offending her Communist teacher colleagues, that she was unsympathetic to the Soviet system. In addition, he stated regretfully that it would be necessary to note in the school records of teacher Brilienė's children after they completed the eleventh grade that they believe in God. He suggested she inquire at the rayon administration, and she would be provided with work. As the meeting was ending, they voted to dismiss teacher Brilienė from work.
During a teachers' conference which took place in August, while speaking about ideological matters, Vyšniauskas, the head of the propaganda department, called teacher Brilienė a sanctimonious granny and reminded his listeners that she should not be working in a school. The principal said that the schools were neglecting the cause of atheism and ordered the teachers to warn their students that they are not to walk behind a priest and a crucifix no matter whose funeral it might be. (Recently, during the funerals of a student and Father Valaitis, many students carried flowers and wreaths.) The principal scolded the teachers because they had seen their students carrying flowers and wreaths and had not pulled them from the ranks of the procession. "The believers throughout the rayon have become emboldened, and for its part, the Party will take vigorous measures to suppress this tide," said the enraged principal.
When the persecution of Brilienė began, the teachers who were Party members openly expressed their animosity: they did not speak with her; it seemed that they did not even want to look in her direction. Incited by someone, the teachers constantly kept suggesting to Brilienė to change jobs voluntarily. They were particularly displeased with the Brilius family's public attendance at church.
On September 14, 1970, the Education Department of Vilkaviškis Rayon ordered the dismissal of teacher Brilienė from work. The principal implored her not to complain anywhere, for that would make things even worse.
During her last lesson, as teacher Brilienė was saying farewell to her students she explained that she was being dismissed because of her faith. This incensed the school administrators.
In the final days of September, Brilienė appealed to the People's Court of the rayonrequesting that she be returned to her position. The trial took place on October 14. Šačkus, the head of the education department, explained to the court that Briliene was a believer, that she attended church, and then added untruthfully that during her lessons she had taught the students to believe in God.
Brilienė confirmed that she believed in God and went to church, noting, however, that this was not forbidden by Soviet laws.
The procurator asserted that a person of such low moral character could not work in a school.
In general, the hearing was more like atheistic propaganda than an effort to clear up a violation of legal procedure.
Noticing this incessant persecution of the teacher, the students' parents appealed to the Procurator General of the USSR with this petition:
"To: The Procurator General of the USSR, Moscow
"From: The parents of students from the Salomėja
Neris Secondary School in Vilkaviškis,
Vilkaviškis, the LSSR
"Teacher Ona Brilienė has worked in our secondary school for many years. We all came to know her as a good person, teacher, and educator of youth.
"On September 15 of this year she was dismissed from her teaching duties. The children returned from school with eyes reddened from crying. We learned that teacher Brilienė had been dismissed because of her religious convictions. We, the parents of students from the secondary school in Vilkaviškis have been greatly offended by this. Can it be that in the Soviet Union, whose Constitution's Article 124 guarantees the freedom of conscience to every citizen, persecution because of an individual's religious convictions continues to occur even now without even taking into consideration that the teacher is a college graduate in pedagogy and has taught successfully for over twenty years!
"We ask you to clear up this deplorable occurrence and to reinstate our highly esteemed teacher, O. Brilienė, in the school.
October 15, 1970"
This petition was signed by forty-six parents.
On November 10, 1970, the Supreme Court met in session. Teacher Brilienė was not permitted to read her statement; she then requested that her written statement be attached to the documents of the case.
At the beginning of her statement, teacher Brilienė set forth the course of events: how the photographs were taken, how she had appealed to the USSR Ministry of Public Education regarding religious persecution, and how she had further been persecuted.
"Soviet laws," she wrote in her statement, "guarantee USSR citizens total freedom of conscience and, at the same time, the freedom to profess a religion. The LSSR Criminal Code even specifies the sanctions to be imposed against those who would attempt to restrict these freedoms. The issue of defending the freedom of conscience has also been discussed in the press. In his article 'Už visišką sąžinės laisvę' [For total freedom of conscience], published in the July io, 1970, issue of Tiesa [Truth], no. 158, Docent J. Aničas has written: 'In Soviet Lithuania today, freedom of conscience has been fully developed, embracing the right of citizens... to profess any religion and to practice religious rites without interference.'
"In the periodical Mokslas ir gyvenimas [Science and Life], 1966, no 9, in his article 'Marksistų ir katalikų dialogas' [Dialogue between Marxists and Catholics] V. Niunka wrote: 'In its proclamation-letter of February 4, 1938, the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party had declared: "Although we have nothing in common with any religion, we support the freedom of conscience and we oppose religious persecution of any sort."' After the Soviet form of governnment was proclaimed in Lithuania, this asserted principle was legitimized in the Soviet Constitution and in other laws in the attempt to block the way completely and finally against any attempts to discriminate against believers by one means or another. Recently the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR has ruled that certain actions must be considered a violation of the laws and be subject to criminal prosecution, such as refusing to employ citizens or preventing their enrollment into educational institutions; or dismissing them from work or from an educational institution; or depriving citizens of the privileges and preferences prescribed by law; or any other restrictions of citizens' rights which are carried out as a result of their views on religion.
"J. Aničas and J. Rimaitis wrote in their booklet 'Tarybiniai įstatymai apie religinius kultus ir sąžinės laisvę' [Soviet laws concerning religious cults and the freedom of conscience] (Vilnius, 1970), p. 37 : 'Religious freedom is understood to be the right of every citizen to profess any religion without interference. It is the freedom to choose one's religion and to change one's religious convictions, the freedom to practice religious rites.' Further, on p. 54 they wrote: 'The freedom of conscience necessarily includes the freedom to practice religious rites, the freedom to believe, the freedom of the Church to function in fulfilling the religious needs of its faithful.'
"By persecuting me publicly because of my religious convictions, the Vilkaviškis Public Education Department and the school administration failed to conform with Soviet laws, interferred with my normal work, arousing a mistrust of Soviet laws.
"Thus, on July 28, 1970,1 again appealed to the USSR Ministry of Public Education, asking once more that they would influence the LSSR Ministry of Public Education to compel the Education Department of the Vilkaviškis Rayon and the school administration to comply with Soviet laws and to cease persecuting me because of my faith and my performance of religious obligations. The USSR Ministry of Public Education, however, once again referred my petition to the LSSR Ministry of Public Education, from which I received a reply on September 24, 1970 (already after I had been dismissed from work), stating that my application had been denied.
"On September 15, 1970, I was summoned to the public education department of therayon, where without any ruling by the local committee of the teachers' union or the local collective committee, I was dismissed from work in accordance with Article 47, Item c, of the Work Statute. I consider this dismissal unlawful, however in two respects:
1. In dismissing me without the consent of the local collective committee, the head of the public education department violated the dismissal procedure established by the Work Statute Code.
2. Dismissal from work because of religious convictions and the practice of religious rites is contrary to Soviet laws.
"Therefore, on September 28, 1970, I appealed to the People's Court of VilkaviškisRayon, so that, after ascertaining the violation of the dismissal procedure, it would reinstate me in my place of employment in accordance with the decision handed down on June 30, 1964 by the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the USSR, without even considering the reasons for my dismissal. The People's Court ignored my appeal and, without delving at all into the violation of the dismissal procedure, at once began to deliberate on my religious convictions and my performance of religious obligations as the basis for justifying the reasons for my dismissal. This was also reflected in the verdict handed down by the People's Court, which stated: 'The plaintiff was dismissed because she is religious.' Although the decision of the People's Court stated that I had been reviewed many times by the pedagogic collective because I attend church, and because I fail to support the atheistic cause at school and for other reasons, however, the last review held on June 23, 1970, could not have taken the place of the local collective committee's approval to dismiss me from work on September 15, 1970. All the more so because to this day I have not been informed of any decision that had been reached at the deliberations concerning my dismissal from work.
"Dismissing me from work because I am a believer is contrary to the freedom of conscience which Soviet laws guarantee. Soviet laws assure the right of citizens to choose any religion and to perform religious duties. No one has the right to even ask which religion one professes or whether one professes none at all. All the more so, no one can dismiss anyone from work because of his religion or the performance of his religious obligations."
Teacher Brilienė explained in the conclusion of her statement that she had worked conscientiously as an educator for twenty-one years, and no one had found fault with her work; nor had she made a show of her religious convictions at the school. It was only after the school administration had appropriated her family's photographs of a religious nature and had publicly announced her religious convictions that she had begun the public practice of religious rites. The charge that she had taught religion to children was a fabrication.
The judicial questioning began.
"Do you believe in God, and do you attend church openly?"
"Yes, I'm a believer, and I go to church openly. I've had enough of concealment—I've concealed this for twenty-one years, and now that my religious convictions have been made public, I see no more reason for concealment."
"What did you tell the children during your last lesson?"
"I told the children I would no longer be teaching them, that I had been dismissed because I believe in God."
Addressing the court, teacher Brilienė asked: "If the education department had the right to dismiss me from work for my faith, don't I have the right to explain why I was dismissed after having worked for twenty-one years? Was it for drunkenness?"
"You also told the children something else?"
"I said that a person has to have firm convictions, that it is better to die standing up than to live a life of groveling."
"What studies have you completed?"
"I graduated from the Pedagogic Institute in Vilnius with a major in geography."
Šačkus, the head of the Education Department of Vilkaviškis Rayon spoke next, reminding the court that teacher Brilienė was a believer, that she hindered atheistic work with children, and that she attended church openly. She had even gone to court to publicize this affair.
As he was being questioned by the judge, Šačkus constantly kept blundering, making a pitiful impression on everyone: "Well then, it looks as if you don't know anything. You don't even know how to dismiss a person from work," the judge noted.
While the judges conferred, there were lively discussions in the courtroom. The procurator was saying:
"A teacher like you should not teach children. You are a hypocrite, a corrupter of children. You don't even have the right to raise your own children. We'll take your children away from you so they can grow up to be true Soviet people, and not be ruined."
"In other words, you can't convey the faith to your children, because they're pupils; later they'll be students— and again they are not permitted to believe; so when can a person believe? When he has retired? Is that what is meant by freedom of religion?" one man questioned the procurator.
The procurator continued in the same vein:
"We'll get rid of one teacher, and then another, if anyone else dares to show he's a believer, and you'll see..."
"So you don't abide by your own laws!"
"We have our own faith and our own laws, and according to them, such teachers will not be allowed to work in a school."
At that point, another man interrupted: "Although I'm a nonbeliever, this teacher has been unjustly dismissed from work. This is a violation of the laws. Soviet laws guarantee the freedom of conscience, but what kind of freedom is this if they deliberated and deliberated and then fired her because of her religious convictions?"
At that moment the judges returned from their conference and read their verdict that the teacher was to be reinstated. The enraged procurator declared: "I won't permit this!"
The head of the education department spoke disconsolately: "Now the entire atheistic cause will collapse..."
After the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate Briliene, the parents who had written the complaint in October were asked to come to the Vilkaviškis Procurator's Office and were given a statement to sign to the effect that O. Brilienė had been reinstated.
But teacher Brilienė had not been reinstated. When she arrived at the school with an enforcer from the court, the head of the education department retorted irritably to the enforcer: "I won't receive you! Come back at 3 p.m."
Apparently the matter had yet to be discussed with someone. In the afternoon, Šačkus signed the document and ordered her to go to the school.
The judge from the People's Court of Vilkaviškis Rayon advised teacher Brilienė to write a letter of resignation from her teaching position, otherwise she would be unable to find work in Vilkaviškis.
At school the situation was unbearable. The teachers would not greet her or speak with her. Each day the principal would announce: "Today there will be no classes. You are free to do what you want!"
Most probably it was not entirely on his own initiative that the principal did not allow the teacher to meet her classes. Someone must have been afraid that the religious teacher might "ruin" some Soviet students.
In December, a meeting of the local committee of the teachers' union was held, in which the case of teacher Brilienė was again considered. Teacher [Mrs.] Urbonienė, the secretary of the school's Party organization, spoke with particular vehemence. As the meeting was ending, everyone voted to dismiss O. Brilienė from work, which in fact was done on December 23.
Almost imperceptibly the question arises—who had masterminded teacher Brilienė's dismissal from work? Throughout the whole time, one could sense that the head of the education department, the principal, and the others were only tools in someone's hands. Finding themselves in a delicate situation, they would even go to Vilnius to confer with someone. There is no doubt that after the Supreme Court's decision, the principal had not acted on his own initiative in forbidding teacher Brilienė to do her work. Someone had also advised the Procurator's Office of Vilkaviškis Rayon to fool the students' parents into signing that teacher Brilienė had been reinstated.
After being dismissed from work, teacher Brilienė attempted to find work elsewhere; however, in Vilkaviškis she was unable to find work even as a cleaning lady. For teacher Brilienė's husband, Jurgis Brilius, who worked as an operations administrator at the Prienai MSV, working conditions were made intolerable, and he was forced to resign his position.
In May of this year, after the memorandum of Lithuania's Catholics had resounded throughout the world, Rugienis arrived in Vilkaviškis and summoning Jurgis Brilius (his wife, who had just given birth to their fifth child, could not come) expressed his regrets, saying that he had not known of teacher Brilienė's persecution, and he promised to help her find a good job, only not at a school. Rugienis reminded Jurgis Brilius that he too would probably have to resign from his new place of employment because the manager was an ardent atheist and would not tolerate an engineer who was as deeply religious as J. Brilius was.
* * *
In the September 16, 1971, issue of Valstiečių laikraštis [Newspaper for tillers of the soil] appeared an article entitled "Vatikano radijo nuodėmės" [The sins of Radio Vatican]. It stated that Radio Vatican "regularly wages a campaign of slanderous propaganda against Soviet Lithuania," that "Lithuanian clerics shamelessly lie," by "whimpering about the discrimination against the believers in Soviet Lithuania." The newspaper continued: "Article 96 of the LSSR Constitution guarantees to the citizens of our Republic the freedom of conscience and, at the same time, the freedom to practice religious rites. But we do not limit ourselves only to declarations. The citizens' rights and freedoms, among them the freedom of conscience, are protected also by other laws. Article 145 of the LSSR Criminal Code prescribes the penalties for interfering in the practice of religious rites. And in the interpretation of Article 143 of the same code... it is pointed out that open to criminal prosecution are actions such as... dismissing someone from work or expelling someone from an educational institution ... as well as other substantial limitations of the rights of citizens, which are carried out because of their views on religion."
"As we see," the newspaper continues, "the rights of believers in socialist Lithuania are strictly guarded by criminal law, and everyone knows perfectly well that every citizen of Soviet Lithuania, no matter which religion he might profess, may freely practice the rites of his religious cult. Or can perhaps the gentlemen from Radio Vatican present us with facts as to when and which citizen experienced discrimination because of his religious convictions— whether by demotion, dismissal from work, expulsion from an institution of higher learning, or similarly?"