Did GDL, BPR and BSSR Have a Freedom of Faith?
The anniversary of the adoption in 1791 of the first constitution in Europe and the second in the world – the Constitution of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was celebrated on the 3rd of May. KRYNICA.INFO found out which legislations of the countries of which Belarus was the part regulated the religious life.
The Privileum of Yagailo, the Grand Duke of LIthuania of 1387 in order to promote the Catholic creed allowed everyone who converts to Catholicism “a full possibility of possessing, using, selling, exchange and give as a gift” his or her property, “freely give in marriage daughters, granddaughters and other women of kinship while retaining the Catholic faith”. Those who “after accepting the Catholic faith would shamefully resent it or who will refuse conversion” were deprived of any specific rights.
The privileum adopted in 1413 expanded rights of a Catholic nobility and made it equal to the Polish one. According to it only Catholic believers were allowed to take local governmental positions. Only Catholics were allowed to participate in the Grand Duke’s council. Besides, they could give their daughters as wives only to Catholics to avoid the transfer of the preoperty to the adherents of different faith.
The Privileum of 1434 of Troki expanded all rights given by the priviileums of 1387 and 1413 to all GDL feudal lords regardless of their creed. At the same timeit retained the paragraph reserving governmental positions by Catholics (practically, this paragraph was not always observed, e.g. Orthodox duke Konstantin Ostrozhski took highest positions of great hetman, castellan of Wilnya and voivode of Troki).
The Statut of 1529 reatains all previous privilegies given to Catholics and Orthodoxes. The document stated that it was composed to “gran Christian laws” to all inhabitants of the Grand Duchy. While giving equal rights to “the Christians of Greek and Latin creeds” the Statut restricted the rights of Jews and Muslims who were not allowed to be witnesses in cases of land tenure and have Christian slaves. It should be noted that only the Christians who had a good reputation and who went to confession every year were allowed to give testimony in land tenure cases.
In the Statut of 1566 the Grand Duke promised to retain all “Christian rights and freedoms”. The Statute states that only Christians were allowed to be judges and give testimony in court. The document restricted even more the rights of Jews and Muslims who were also denied in governmental posts. They were also denied to convert Christians to their faith under pain of burning. Christians were not allowed to be nannies to their children. Jews were alos restricted in their choice of clothes and jewellery.
The last Statute of 1588 was also based on the “God’s teaching”. Under the influence of Protestantism the witnesse in court were not required to attend confession and receive communion but only to be “good, God-fearing, virtuous and not suspicious” people. In cases connected with land tenure of Muslims they were allowed to participate if they were “good, virtuous and trustworthy”. Concerning consecration of Christian churhces and graveyards no difference was made between different denominations. It also concerned “clerics of any Christian ministry”. In order to uphold the peace between denominations the Act of Warsaw Confederacy of 1573, that set the basics of religious tolerance, was included in the Statute’s text.
The court cases of Jews and Muslims were reviewed according to their law with several restrictions in cases involving Cristians. Jews converted to Christianity and their progeny were considered a nobility.
The Constitution of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of May, 3rd of 1791 declared Catholic Christianity the dominating religion with transition from Catholicism being prohibited. Nevertheless, other denominations were guaranteed peace and freedom.
The Code of Laws of Russian Empire, the part of which Belarus became after the partitions of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, codified in 1832 and revised in 1906, declared Orthodox Christianity the dominating religion and the emperor, who could only be Orthodox, was declared the head of Church. The freedom of aith was given to Christians of all “foreign denominations”, Jews, Muslims and pagans “glorifying God Almighty in different tongues and according to their fathers’ traditions”. The Holy Sinode governed Orthodox Church, the other denominations were governed by their religious authorities and authorities dedicated by the government. Christians were forbidden to convert to non-Christian faiths, the Orthodoxes were prohibited from leaving to ohter denominations. Atheism was forbidden.
The Second Charter of Belarusian People’s Republic of March, 9th of 1918 declared “the absolute freedom of faith”. The temporary constitution of BPR presupposed the representation of Belarusian religious organizations, Orthodox and Catholic clergy in BPR Rada (legislative council). It was supposed that before convocation of Panbelarusian Orthodox Congress the representatives would be chosen by diocesan councils and Catholic representatives would be chosen by cathedral chapters.
The constitutions of Soviet Belarus were virtually identical on the subject of religion. They declared the separation of the Church from the states and schools and admitted the freedom of Pro- or Antireligious propaganda. Besides, the constitutions of 1919 and 1927 gauranteed asylum for foreigners persecuted for “religious crimes” and the constitution of 1927 stated that “monks and priests of all religions and cults” were deprived of a right to vote. The fomentation of religious hatred was prohibited only in the constitution of 1978.
The active Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994 states that “all religions are equal before the law”. According to it the relations between the state and religious organizations are regulated by the law with consideration of their influence upon the shaping of spiritual, cultural and national traditions of Belarusian people. At the same time, the activity of religious organizations is prohibited which is directed against Belarusian sovereignity, its constitutional system or which is connected with violation of human rights or hinders the citizens’ state, social or family activities or harms their health and morality.
The constitution also prohibits the establishment of mandatory religious ideology and the activities of parties and associations propagating religious hatred. The constitustion presupposes that the Republic of Belarus may provide asylum for persons persecuted for their beliefs in other countries.
“Everyone shall have the right to determine independently his attitude towards religion, to manifest any religion alone or in community with others, or to manifest none at all, to express and spread beliefs connected with his attitude towards religion, and to participate in the performance of acts of worship and religious rituals and rites, which are not prohibited by law” – states the Constitution.
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