On March 19, 1978, the LSSR Supreme Soviet Presidium issued a decree proclaiming open debate on the new LSSR Draft Constitution. Earlier, when the USSR Draft Constitution was still under consideration, Lithuania's clergy and laity submitted their requests to Moscow. We are reprinting below other statements expressing the will of the believing people of Lithuania, which was completely ignored by Soviet officials.
To: The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR From: the Priests of the Kaunas Archdiocese, a statement on the new Draft Constitution.
The very brief time alloted for debate on the new draft Constitution forces us to urgently make several comments on this new
document which is to become the main body of law for many years to come.
Many priests have already presented their requests and comments of the Soviet Union draft. Unfortunately, their requests did not meet wjth any response. It seems that the voice of Lithuania's believers carries no weight in Moscow and no one sees any need to listen to it. It should be completely different in Lithuania where the great majority are believers and Catholics. We hope that here it will not be a voice crying in the wilderness. That is why we are writing.
In its present form, the new draft Constitution does not meet the needs of the faithful of Lithuania. Most of the articles which concern us directly are worded in an unclear and vague manner and, in fact, differ little from the old, other than in numbering. This version of the current Constitution, if it is not amended, will meet the needs of only a small portion of Lithuania's inhabitants—the atheists.
We therefore wish to point out certain articles which, in our view, must be worded more precisely to avoid painful misunderstandings in the future.
Article 32 states that "Citizens of the Lithuanian SSR are equal before the law, regardless of descent, social or economic position, race or national origin, sex, education, language, relation to religion, type and nature of employment, place of residence and other circumstances."
To date, under the Lithuanian SSR Constitution now in effect, Catholics and believers have been second-class citizens:
1) They could not assume responsible positions in government and education;
2) In daily life and in the press, they have constantly been ridiculed, debased, called "backward", "primitive", "spreaders of superstition" and the like, while, in the meantime, the University of Vilnius, founded in earlier times by the Jesuits, is preparing to celebrate its 400th anniversary;
3) They do not enjoy equal rights with the atheists in the fields of culture and art.
We therefore propose to replace the term "relation to religion," which is meaningless, with "regardless of religious and philosophical differences."
Article 39: "Citizens of the Lithuanian SSR have the right to rest. This right is ensured by the establishment of a workweek not to
exceed 41 hours for blue and white collar workers, by shortening, the workday for certain professions and industries, by shortening night shifts, annual paid vacations, weekly days of rest. . ."
"The state farm determines the work and rest shifts for state farm workers."
Nearly half of all inhabitants live in the Lithuanian countryside. Most of them are state farm workers. They earn their living which is the basis of all spiritual creativity and the impetus to progress. It is no secret that state farm workers work seven days a week in the summer and are completely at the mercy of the whims of state farm officials. There are still not that many good state farms in Lithuania. Thus, state farm workers cannot fulfill their basic needs, as human beings or as believers.
We therefore ask that art. 39 be worded as follows:
"Citizens of the Lithuanian SSR have the right to rest. This right is ensured by the establishment of a workweek not to exceed 41 hours for blue and white collar workers and state farm workers . . ." Completely delete the words: "The state farm determines the work and rest shifts for state farm workers." Otherwise, state farm workers will continue to have no rights. It is unjust and detrimental to exclude state farm workers from the basic law!
Article 50 states: "Citizens of the Lithanian SSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, i.e., the right to profess any religion whatsoever or not to profess any, practice religious cults or conduct anti-religious propaganda. It is forbidden to stir up discord and hatred in connection with religious beliefs.
"The Church in the Lithuanian SSR is separate from the state and the school from the church."
This article differs from the old Constitution only in the number assigned it! In this instance, the situation of believers is the same as that of state farm workers—they have only duties, but no rights. They are left at the mercy of various types of executive committees.
1) We are not allowed to have religious literature. Not a single catechism has been published in Soviet Lithuania. And the future holds no prospects! Very limited editions of prayerbooks have been published at times, but this in no way fills the needs of believers. We do not have a single Catholic newspaper, magazine, calendar or religious book. The decisions of Vatican II were available only to priests (!), each parish received several copies of the New Testament. Liturgy books, printed on newsprint, are completely
falling apart. In the meantime, atheists publish literature in tens of thousands of copies and have radio and television programs at government expense—in other words, from the money of believers also, for they pay taxes.
2) Many artistic churches (especially in Vilnius) have been closed and converted into concert halls (the Cathedral of Vilnius, the masterpiece of Stuoka Gucevičius), atheist museums (St. Ca-simir's Church in Vilnius), philharmonic halls (the Church of Mary, Queen of peace, in Klaipėda), or just turned into warehouses. Vilnius, the capital of Catholic Lithuania, has neither a cathedral nor a bishop! This is a mockery of religion, of believers' feelings and, finally, of art itself. And why even mention the need to build new churches in Elektrėnai, N.(aujoji) Akmenė and the new sections of larger cities. For many believers live and work there also.
3) Two bishops—Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincent Sladkevičius—have been exiled from their dioceses for seventeen years and are not allowed to perform their duties, without anyone knowing at whose order, for what and for how long. The lone Kaunas Theological Seminary (the others were closed down in 1946) has a limited enrollment and the bishops are not allowed to use their discretion in choosing candidates to the priesthood. As a result of this arbitrariness on the part of atheists, the number of priest has sharply declined and they are quite advanced in age and are therefore no longer able to properly minister to the faithful (one priest.. sometimes serves two or three parishes).
4) We Catholics are not allowed to contact our fellow countrymen or our brethren in the faith throughout the world, nor are we granted the possibility of exchanging religious information or spiritual values, while the atheists can freely quote in their brochures or propaganda from Vatican publications (often in a biased manner, using quotes out of context), the works of Catholics throughout the world and those of Lithuanian emigrants.
5) It is forbidden to teach children religion even in private. For doing so, priests are punished by imprisonment and monetary fines. The principles of Lenin are stressed everywhere; therefore why are Lenin's decree on religion and the first constitution—which permitted the private learning and teaching of religion—not adhered to. Up to now, the children of believing parents are forcibly rendered Godless in schools, are given only fair deportment grades for attending church, are constantly ridiculed and debased in front of the entire class. Akiratis (Horizon) and other atheist programs mock believers, hold them in contempt and distort historical and scientific truth.
6) Believers are discriminated against in matters of daily existence. For instance the church, pays 25 kopecks per kilowatt of electricity, citizens only 4 kopecks and state farms even less. The faithful therefore cannot always afford to light their churches adequately. And yet believers are workers and state farm workers, who daily toil conscientiously for the state.
Under decree N III of the USSR LKT (People's Council of Commissars) dated February 3, 1938, extremely high insurence premiums are imposed on country churches. The reasoning was that there were no fire companies in the countryside. Life has changed over the past forty years. Now, every state farm, therefore every village, has fire companies and firemen. It should be time to review outdated laws and lighten the heavy premium burden that workers and state farm workers pay for churches.
To date, talk about the equality of atheists and believers has been viewed as a nasty joke.
We therefore ask that, if the new Constitution is to be acceptable to all, the words "practice religious cults or conduct anti-religious propaganda" be replaced by the words "conduct religious and anti-religious propaganda." And replace "it is forbidden to stir up discord and hatred in connection with religious beliefs," which the atheists will again use as a whip against believers, with the words "any religious or philosophical discrimination whatsoever is forbidden by law."
Art. 51: "The family is protected by the state . . ."
Our families, established on Godless foundations, are in serious difficulty. Nearly one third of all marriages entered into every year break up. Unofficial statistics show (for some reason this is not officially publicized) that more unborn infants are murdered every year than are born. During recent years, not only are individual classrooms being closed in villages, not only are middle schools, but even grammar schools—there are no more children!
We therefore ask that all means possible be used to rescue the family. We are convinced that this cannot be achieved without a religious upbringing. The atheist experiment, to use polite terms, has not proved justified. We also ask that the Constitution forbid abortion. Abortion is forbidden in West Germany, Rumania, Israel. Why can't we do likewise? Shame on the socity or the state that cannot protect its still unborn citizens. As long as unborn infants are being murdered, talk about culture will be mere soap bubbles.
Article 56: "Citizens of the Lithuanian SSR have the right to bring charges against the actions of officials, state or community bodies. Charges must be considered on the basis of the procedure and terms set by law."
Unfortunately, the complaints of believers are nearly never acknowledged or are given an oral reply by the Religious Affairs Commissioner: "Slander." In the event of a conflict, all government bodies uphold the atheist side. According to a prevailing unwritten law, a priest or believer cannot win agains government officials or atheists. This article must therefore be worded precisely and any customs on this matter eliminated.
Article 108 is not sufficiently clear. Paragraph 4 states that the Supreme Soviet Presidium supervises enforcement of the Lithuanian SSR Constitution. A separate body is needed authoritatively to interpret the Constitution itself. The Supreme Soviet Presidium cannot do this because it promulgates laws which contradict the letter and the spirit of the Constitution (for instance, the August 28, 1976 Decree of the Lithuanian SSR Supreme Soviet Presidium).
We ask you to consider our remarks and make the indicated changes in the new Draft Constitution.
Kaunas, Chancery Office 4/10/78.
Signed by the following priests (some, because of technical difficulties, were not apprised of this draft):
A. Svarinskas, L. Kalinauskas, K. Daknevičius, L. Jagminas, A. Jokūbauskas, S. Dobrovolskis, A. Imbras, V. Brusokas, J. Birbilas, S. Pilka, J. Užusienis, V. Pesliakas, E. Semaška, J. Vaičeliūnas, P. Liubonas, A. Perminąs, J. Voveris, K. Valančius, P. Meilus, G. Dunda, A. Danyla, P. Matulaitis, J. Vaicekauskas, J. Babonas, J. Dobilaitis, G. Gudanavičius, Bishop J. Steponavičius, P. Lažinskas, L. Vaičiulionis, Z. Grinevičius, V. Ramanauskas, J. Povilaitis, P. Ščepavičius, V. Polikaitis, J. Survila, R. Mizaras, J. Augustaus-kas, P. Bubnys, A. Kazlauskas, M. Buožius, V. Šauklys, A. Močius, P. Bastys, P. Tuminas, J. Fabijanskas, V. Grinevičius, J. Indriūnas, A. Graužinis, I. Butkus, Canon J. Želvys, A. Zaikauskas, R. Liukas, A. Lapė, K. Statkevičius, J. Račaitis, L. Čechavičius.
We, the priests of the Telšiai diocese, having read the statement of the priest of the Kaunas Archdiocese on changes to the new Draft Constitution, fully concur:
(There follows the text signed by the priests of the Kaunas archdiocese).
Signed by the following priests:
V. Stirbys, J. Budrikis, J. Miškinis, J. Alšauskas, P. Stukas, P. Jasa, L. Serapinas, F. Žilys, A. Baškys, J. Maželis, J. Petrauskas, J. Bačinskas, A. Alminas, B. Racevičius, K. Viršila, J. Širvaitis, D. Bivainis, V. Šlevas, V. Pošėla, V. Vėlavičius.
Due to lack of time, not all priests were apprised of this text.
STATEMENT BY THE BELIEVERS OF LITHUANIA After studying the draft of the Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR submitted to public debate, we, the undersigned religious believers of Lithuania, propose the following:
1)That equal rights be specifically guaranteed for believers and non-believers. To date, such equality is not yet practiced in Lithuania: Believers are not allowed to work as teachers, in management positions or other responsible positions. The new Constitution must guarantee absolute equality—the law must forbid dismissal from work for religious beliefs.
2)To guarantee the equality of believers and non-believers, freedom of religious press is necessary. When only freedom of atheist propaganda exists, the rights of believers are often violated, slandered and insulted in the press; the believers are called ignorant. Without a religious press, there is no possibility of replying to unjust slanders and insults. The Soviet press has never yet criticized the violation of laws as they apply to believers. As a result, Soviet citizens—believers—are forced to turn to international organizations, human rights defense committees and the like.
3) The Declaration of Human Rights stresses the rights of parents to raise their children according to their own philosophy, and to teach them in schools according to their religious beliefs. It is therefore necessary to recognize freedom of religious education in the new Constitution.
4) Guarantee the right to life for unborn children. Forbid abortion, for it is a crime against humanity.
Strengthen the durability of families. Allow divorce only in special cases as decided by the Supreme Court. Lithuania's Catholic families endure only because the Church does not allow divorce.
In our view, such measures will enhance the prestige of the USSR in the international arena. It will be a clear proof that the Soviet government is concerned with the equality of rights of all strata of peoples. Complete equality is the foundation for democracy. Granting 'press, work and educational rights to believers will in particular strengthen the democratic prestige of the Soviet state. Because such laws were not adopted in the joint USSR Constitution, their inclusion in the Lithuanian SSR Constitution would be proof to the whole world that the Lithuanian SSR is sovereign in promulgating its laws.
Diocese of Telšiai April 1978
N.B. Signed by 780 persons, about 1/3 of the signatures legible. Mailed from Plungė 4/11/78 by registered mail, receipt No. 456.
To: The Secretary of the Lithuanian SSR Communist Party and Chairman of the Constitutional Commission, P. Griškevičius.
A Statement from: The believers of the Kybartai Parish.
Believers constitute the majority of the Lithuanian nation, therefore, their rights in the new LSSR Constitution cannot be less than those of atheists. Article 50 of the LSSR Draft Constitution makes us, believers, unequal in rights with the atheists and it is, therefore, essential that it be amended. The Catholics of Lithuania would find the following wording of article 50 acceptable:
"Citizens of the Lithuanian SSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, i.e., the right to profess any religion whatsoever or not profess any, practice religious cults or not practice any, conduct religious or atheist propaganda. It is forbidden to stir up discord and hatred in connection with religious beliefs.
"The church and atheist propaganda in the Lithuanian SSR are separate from the state and the school is separate from the church and atheist propaganda. It is forbidden for schools to educate children contrary to their parents' beliefs."
Signed by 975 believers of Kybartai
The statement was presented to the LSST Central Committee on the morning of April 17.
A similar statement was submitted to the Central Committee by the parishioners of Vištytis.
To: The USSR Supreme Soviet Praesidium
At this time, when the Draft Constitution is being subjected to a nationwide debate and we, the bishops and diocesan administrators of the Lithuanian SSR, receive comments on the Draft Constitution from ordinary believers and priests, the question has been raised that the bishops and administrators present their comments and requests on the Draft. We, the undersigned, are voicing here some thoughts on the matter.
We are intrigued by and optimistic about the USSR Draft Constitution, which guarantees the free development and fulfillment of citizens' personalities, their equality before the law, the expansion of their rights and freedoms, the freedom of conscience, the right to submit suggestions to government bodies, etc. We respect the fact that the draft has been submitted to the nation for deliberation, so that all might voice their views and suggestions to the Constitutional Commission on the desired amendments or additions.
We wish to focus the Constitutional Commission's attention on articles 36, 50 and 52 of the Draft Constitution which, in our opinion, need to be given more concrete stress, which would then ensure fuller freedom and citizen rights to believers.
Regarding article 36:
Religious and philosophical differences are no less essential and deep than racial and national differences; therefore, in order to ensure all citizens conditions of freedom, complete development and equal rights, the wording of the article should include after the words "nations and races" the words "religious and philosophical outlooks." As proven by experience, believers have up to now felt in some places not completely equal in rights, although the freedom of conscience and equal rights of all citizens were guaranteed by the Constitution now in effect.
Once the suggested corrections are made, article 36 would read as follows: "Soviet citizens of various nations, races, religions and philosophical outlooks have equal rights.
"The fulfillment of these rights is ensured by the freedoms of nationality, religion and philosophical outlook for all USSR nations, by the policy of complete development and rapprochment, the education of citizens in the spirit of patriotism and socialist internationalism, the possibility to use one's native tongue and the tongues of other USSR nations, the possibility to maintain contact with one's fellow countrymen and those who hold similar views in religion and beliefs throughtout the world, the possibility to exchange with them information and spiritual values.
" Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of or direct or indirect priviledges for citizens based on their racial, national or philosophical traits, as well as any advocacy of racial, national, religious or philosophical exclusiveness, discord or contempt is punishable by law."
Regarding article 52:
This article, we are convinced, does not sufficiently ensure equality of rights to believers and non-believers. It appears that it reduces religious profesión to the practice of religious rites. It writes about the right of non-believers to conduct atheist propaganda, but does not write anything about the right of believers to teach and learn religion. The right of non-believers to atheist propaganda as well as the right of believers to teach and learn religion are in essence the right to information on one's beliefs. It is vital for both believers and non-believers. It must be clearly defined in the Constitution. By professing his religion, every conscientious member of a religious community is also interested in religious learning, in more simple terms, he is interested in acquiring at least basic religious information. But how and where will he be able to acquire such information, if no citizen has the right to provide religious information, to teach religion? Earlier, the decree issued at Lenin's initiative on the separation of Church from state and of school from Church, clearly enunciated this right of believers: "Citizens can teach and learn religion in private." And Lenin's 1918 Constitution clearly defined the equality of believers and non-believers with respect to information on their beliefs: "The freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda is assured all citizens." Such equality of believers and non-believers must be also clearly stated in the new Constitution.
When the 1936 Constitution recognized the freedom of religious practice for believers and the freedom of atheist propaganda for non-believers, the freedom of atheist propaganda began to dominate our nation's public life, using state means (school, press, radio, etc.); the freedom of religious information, and even then on a limited basis, was allowed only in cult buildings. The situation then developed that religion and professing it became something that citizens needed to be ashamed of in public. This deeply offends the moral feelings of believers and shows the deep discrimination against believers as compared to non-believers.
When the Constitution does not define the right to religious teaching and learning concretely, then, as shown by past experience, this right can be interpreted in various ways: some officials adhere to Lenin's decree and do not interfere with private religious teaching in church, while others consider even private religious instruction a basic violation of the law and impose sanctions. Because of this situation, conscientious believers are distressed because they cannot "teach him who does not know," priests hear on the one hand Christ's command: "Go and teach . . ." and on the other hand, the ban on teaching. And there is a constant conflict of conscience: the scrupulous man agonizes, not knowing how to act in order to keep both God's and the state's law. It is unthinkable that people at the state's helm do not wish to bring everything to bear to find a solution which would help believers avoid a conflict of conscience and officials—misunderstanding. Such a solution would benefit both sides.
In our view, article 52 should be reworded as follows:
"USSR citizens are accorded freedom of conscience; that is the equal right of all citizens to profess any religion whatsoever, to act according to its dictates, to teach and learn one's religion, to seek information on one's religion and that of others, as well as the parallel right not to profess any religion, to inform and gain information on one's atheist beliefs."
This right of information of beliefs must be defined in the Constitution by a clear article, without vague and undefined conditions as "in accordance with the interests of workers and in order to strengthen the socialist order." Such generalized conditions can hide discrimination against rights and legal exclusiveness or privileges for individual groups of citizens.
It speaks of citizens' freedom of speech, press, assembly, mass meetings, street processions and demonstrations, and could, in our opinion, be amended as follows:
"To gain information on their beliefs and satisfy their individual or community aspirations, all USSR citizens are guaranteed the freedom of speech, press, assembly, mass meetings, street processions and demonstrations. Citizens can be prosecuted for abusing this freedom and directing it against the state interests of all citizens. State officials can be charged for limiting such legal freedom.
"These civil rights are ensured by placing at the disposal of citizens and their organizations community buildings, streets and squares, widespread distribution of information, access to the press, television and radio—without any prejudice and in proportion to the membership of the organization involved."
Bishop J. Matulaitis-Labukas Apostolic Administrator of the Kaunas Archdiocese and the Vilkaviškis Diocese.
Bishop R. Krikščiūnas, Apostolic Administrator of the Panevėžys Diocese
Bishop L. Povilonis, Coadjutor to the Apostolic Administrator of the Kaunas Archdiocese and Vilkaviškis Diocese.
Msgr. Č. Krivaitis, Administrator of the Vilnius Archdiocese.
Very Rev. J. Andrikonis, Administrator of the Kaišiadorys Diocese.
Rev. A. Vaičius, Administrator of the Telšiai Diocese and Klaipėda Prelature.
The Soviet government completely ignored the suggestions of the faithful and adopted the new LSSR Constitution which clearly discriminates against the faithful of Lithuania.
The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania recalls on this occasion a statement submitted six years ago to Soviet authorities by a Catholic:
"Since the Soviet authorities cannot manage to grant Lithuania's believers full freedom of religion, we therefore ask them to grant Lithuania freedom. Once free, Lithuania will ensure all her citizens the necessary rights."
Is Religious Propaganda Permitted?
"It (religious propaganda — Chronicle note) is practiced in our country and this fact cannot be seen only by people who are in advance set against or opposed to our society. Can the religious needs of believers possibly be fulfilled without religious propaganda, can religious rites be practiced? Doesn't the Soviet state, for these very reasons, give religious communities the free use of churches and cult articles, which are the property of all the people? What takes place during services, if not religious propaganda? What in fact are sermons? Why are religious centers in our country given the possibility to publish religious literature, from holy books and periodicals to theological works?
"It is natural and fitting that religious propaganda be practiced within the framework of religious rites. . . because the majority of our nation's inhabitants—non-believing persons—do not feel the need for such propaganda."
_ (From "Nauka i religija" 1978, No. 4, p. 13.)
The majority of Lithuania's inhabitants are Catholics and do not feel the need for atheist propaganda; therefore, why is it disseminated by all means possible, even forcibly? Is this, then, equality of believers and atheists before Soviet law?
Where is religious propaganda, if Lithuania's believers do not have even the most rudimentary catechisms, needed to familiarize children with the truths of faith?