THE DIOCESE OF PANEVĖŽYS
Presented below is Father A. Liesis' appeal to the People's Court of Utena and his statement of defense, which the judge did not allow him to read:
"To: The People's Court of Utena Rayon
"Copies to: Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
of the LSSR
The Commissioner of the Council
For Religious Affairs
The Curia of Panevėžys Diocese
An Appeal by the Rev. A. Liesis, Residing in Daunoriai
Village, Utena Rayon
"On June 29, 1973, the administrative commission of the Utena Rayon Executive Committee stated that on June 12, 1973, I taught catechism to a group of children at the church in Daunoriai. The commission concluded that by doing so I have violated the following resolution of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR: 'The following actions are violations of the law regarding religious cults: the organization and holding of special meetings for children and youths... that are not related to the performance of religious rites' (See the May 12, 1966, decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR 'concerning administrative responsibility for violating the law regarding religious cults.').
"Upon reading this resolution adopted by the Presidium, we can see plainly that it prohibits only those gatherings of children which are not related to the activities (performance) of the cult. Those which are related to the activities of the cult are not prohibited.
"At the above-mentioned children's gathering, I and the children prayed together. I questioned them about the sacraments, prayer, and God. I preached a sermon to them about God. A sermon (just as are prayer, the celebration of mass, and the administration of sacraments) is an essential part of the Catholic cult. Delivering sermons, administering sacraments—that is all part of the Catholic cult. Which means that only cultic activities were being performed at this gathering. The cited resolution adopted by the Presidium does not forbid assemblies for cultic activities, and Article 96 of the LSSR Constitution specifically permits gatherings at which cultic activities are performed ('Freedom of religious worship is recognized for all citizens of the LSSR.').
"We priests are constantly being accused and punished with harsh prison sentences (for example, Fathers A. Šeškevičius, Zdebskis, Bubnys), on the basis of still another resolution adopted by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR, namely: 'By violation of the laws concerning the separation of the church from the state and of the school from the church... is understood the following:... the organization and systematic performance of religious educative activities for minor children in violation of the regulations set by law' (See the May 12, 1966, resolution adopted by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR.).
"It is evident that this resolution concerning the organized, that is group teaching of religion to children also prohibits, not absolutely, nor at all times, but only in those instances when the 'regulations set by law' are violated in teaching religion to groups. When keeping within the bounds of these 'regulations,' the teaching of religion to children in groups is not prohibited. These 'regulations' which priests are supposed to observe when teaching religion to groups of children have not been officially announced anywhere, which means that they do not exist, and if they do not, then what juridical basis do the LSSR courts have for charging priests with the violation of these imaginary resolutions and for punishing them so severely?
"We priests are constantly being reproached with violating the constitutional article 'the school is separated from the church' while teaching religion to children. Dear jurists, let us speak not poetically but juridically. In legal terminology a 'school' is an institution specially designed for education. In the juridical sense, no one has the right to call a house of worship (where people pray), or some establishment or factory a 'school,' because all these places are specifically designed not for teaching but for other purposes, even though there, just as in all of life, people inadvertently learn and specialize. Poetically and pictorially speaking, no doubt, everything, including life itself, could be called a 'school.' I said speaking 'poetically,' not juridically.
"Speaking in legal terms, we do not have the right to call students or teachers a school, just as we do not have the right to call the sweepers, cooks, or diners a restaurant, or barbers and their customers a barbershop. In juridical language a 'restaurant' is a place for eating, a barbershop is a place for cutting hair, and a 'school' is an educational institution and not its guards, nor students, nor teachers.
"Ergo, the constitutional law separating 'the school from the church' calls only the educational institution a 'school' but not other establishments, nor other places, nor its students or teachers.
"Which means that we priests who teach religion to children in places which are not educational institutions (we do not even set foot in them) do not violate in the slightest the aforementioned constitutional law.
"Which also means that the administrative commission of the Utena Rayon Executive Committee found me guilty and fined me (fifty rubles) without any legal grounds and, also, immorally, since penalizing a priest for performing his sacred and honorable duties (imposed upon him by Christ and the Church) is a truly uncivilized and genuinely immoral action.
"I therefore request the People's Court of Utena Rayon to nullify this decision of the administrative commission."
Father Liesis' Statement of Defense
"The constitutional laws governing speech, the press, and assembly permit the teaching of religion to groups of children. Article 97 of the LSSR Constitution states: 'In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, LSSR citizens are guaranteed by law: (a) freedom of speech; (b) freedom of the press; (c) freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings.'
"We shall examine the meaning of this article. The introduction speaks about the interests of the working people. The welfare of the working people and their interests are the goals of every law. Lawmakers sometimes note this goal in the statement of the law, sometimes they do not. The essence of the law, however, always remains the same, regardless of whether this aim (the welfare of the working people) is noted in the text of the law or not. Article 97 of the LSSR Constitution notes this purpose explicitly within this opening sentence: 'in conformity with the interests of the working people (i.e., welfare of the working people; for their benefit)... are guaranteed...'
"Even should this introductory wording, 'in conformity with the interests of the working people,' have been omitted, the essence of this article would remain the same, namely: 'LSSR citizens are guaranteed by law: (a) freedom of speech; (b) freedom of the press; (c) freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings.'
"Citizens must comply unconditionally with every moral law. Which means that Article 97 of the constitution must also be enforced unconditionally. Its essence, as mentioned is such: All citizens (thus, priests also) are guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press (i.e., all kinds of speech, all kinds of publishing, of all points of view, which also means freedom of speech and publishing of a religious nature), and freedom of assembly (meaning also religious assemblies of children called by priests). The stated word is 'freedom,' which means true freedom, total unrestricted freedom.
"That is the true meaning of Article 97 of the constitution. There are many, however, who interpret this article of the constitution erroneously. They think that this article guarantees not absolute but conditional freedom of speech, the press, and assembly. They say that the LSSR Constitution guarantees only the freedom of such speech, press, and assembly which 'agrees with the interests of the working people,' with their welfare, and which benefits the working man.
"If the constitution would grant the freedom, not of all speech, not of every press, not of every assembly, but only of beneficial speech, a beneficial press, and beneficial (suited to the interests of working people) assembly, then it (the constitution) would also present clear criteria for distinguishing beneficial speech, beneficial press, and beneficial assembly from harmful speech, harmful press, and harmful assembly; I say that the constitution would present standards indicating what speech, what press, and what assemblies are considered 'harmful,' and which are 'beneficial' to the welfare of the working people.
"But the above-mentioned constitutional laws do not offer any criteria to distinguish beneficial speech from that which is harmful, a beneficial press from that which is harmful, or beneficial assembly from that which is harmful. Without clear standards the constitutional law of freedom ' of speech, the press, and assembly, if understood according to the second interpretation, becomes absolutely obscure, that is, it is altogether unclear as to which form of speech, press, and assembly the constitution considers beneficial and which harmful to the welfare of the working people.
"An ambiguous law has no juridical value. An unclear law is a juridical flaw. That is why the aforementioned constitutional laws concerning speech, the press, and assembly, if understood according to the second interpretation, would therefore be unclear and become a legal flaw.
"The lawmakers certainly did not want the laws they promulgated to be legal flaws. Therefore, they intended that these laws were to be regarded in the original sense and not according to the second interpretation.
"Thus if Article 97 of the constitution guarantees full, unrestricted freedom, not merely for so-called beneficial speech, so-called beneficial press, and so-called beneficial assembly, but for all speech, of every point of view, meaning also speech and publishing of a religious nature; and for every assembly of every viewpoint (without exception), this means also the religious assemblies of children called by priests.
"Undoubtedly, the framers of the constitution knew that in making use of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, citizens may also make many unfortunate mistakes. To the drafters of the constitution, however, it was also plain that the truth would out and that the mistakes would be overcome, not by any one party, nor by the restrictions of its censors (who themselves are not infallible), but only by total freedom of speech and of the press. That is why the framers of the constitution guaranteed this unrestricted freedom of speech, the press, and assembly which is useful for the victory of truth and for the welfare of the working people.
"Which means that we priests also have the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to hold various meetings (of the young or old) and to express our thoughts during them. Ergo, the administrative commission of the Utena Executive Committee did not have the legal (even more so, the moral) right to censure me and to penalize me because on June 12, 1973, I spoke about God, his commandments, the sacraments, and prayer to a small group of children at the church in Daunoriai. I therefore request the court to nullify this unlawful and erroneous decision of the administrative commission.
"I request the People's Court of Utena Rayon to in-include this statement with the documentation in my case file."
(N.B. The People's Court of Utena found that Father A. Liesis had been justly penalized.)