During his press conference Oct. 2, President Roosevelt astounded the people of our country, but also many people in other countries by his statement concerning religious freedom in Soviet Russia. During the past month this remark has aroused considerable comment and criticism by many church leaders in our country and also abroad. The remark was made to strengthen the administration’s policy of extending aid to Communistic Russia and many of the correspondents present seemed to be somewhat surprised by the President’s declaration.
Russian Constitution on Religious Freedom:
When questioned later by the newsmen the President referred them to Articles 124 and 125 of the constitution of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. These articles read as follows: (Italics mine. P.R.Z.).
124— “In order to insure to every citizen the freedom of conscience, the church of the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”
125— “Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, press, and assembly on condition that the citizens use them to strengthen the Communistic System.”4
Constitution of the U. S. Compared:
Article I of the Amendments of the Constitution of the United States reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, or to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” President Roosevelt’s remark was based on the similarity to be found between the above cited articles of the constitutions of the United States and Russia. He implied that the meaning of the Soviet’s Constitution was similar to Article I of the Amendments of the Constitution of the United States regarding the rights of its citizens.
Some critics have granted a similarity in the articles which they describe as superficial and tricky in the use of similar words in each, but hasten to add that the Soviet Regime has cynically, systematically and steadfastly flaunted such guarantees as were given.
In analyzing article 124 they deny that it actually grants freedom of religion. This is correct, for, while it guarantees “the freedom to perform religious rites”, at the same time, it specifically forbids religious education and does not grant the right to propagate religion, although the same article emphatically grants, “freedom of anti-religious propaganda”.
Godless education alone can exist. Seminaries are forbidden and therefore ministers of religion cannot be trained to lead the people in their religious worship. While during its entire existence the government, itself has subsidized militant atheistic propaganda of the vilest sort.
Program Of Communists:
In addition, the program of the Communistic International (leading Communistic organization in Russia) includes that, “Among the tasks of the cultural revolution which must embrace the greater masses, special importance is given to the struggles against the opium of the people, RELIGION; a struggle which must be conducted in a systematic manner and without flinching”. This program has been followed to the present time in such a manner in the Soviet Regime and will be advanced in any other country where Communism gains a foothold.
Stalin, himself, has repeatedly insisted on the extirpation of religion by State action, not only in Russia but in every land to which Communism spreads. During his rule hundreds of priests were reported to have been killed, imprisoned. or otherwise to have disappeared. Many of the churches have been closed, demolished, or converted to profane uses on slight pretexts or no pretext at all.
In spite of all these publicly known facts and actions of the Communistic forces and leaders in Russia, President Roosevelt attempts to justify aid to Russia upon the condition that the citizens of the Soviet Union have religious freedom similar to that granted the citizens of the United States. Let me add in passing that if our leaders find it possible to give the same interpretation to these few articles cited from the Constitution of Russia and the United States our own liberties of freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly have a very shaky and feeble foundation. They are decaying rapidly and will grant us no rights whatsoever if our government decides to interpret them to fit its own personal whims and fancies.
President Roosevelt also tried to get Russia to promise a change in its present policy and grant more religious liberties to its citizens in exchange for Lend Lease Aid from the United States.
On June 23, Under-Secretary Welles stated: “This government has often stated and in many public statements the President has declared that the United States maintains that freedom to worship God as their consciences dictate is the great fundamental right of the people. This right has been denied to their people by both the Nazi and Soviet governments. To the people of the United States, this and other principles and doctrines of communistic dictatorship are as intolerable as are the principles and doctrines of Nazi Dictatorship.”
At the outbreak of the struggle between these great dictators Mr. Welles assumed that the President considered the U.S.S.R. to be antireligious.
Russia ’s Reply:
What was Russia’s attitude regarding President Roosevelt’s prize which he wished to employ to coerce the Russian government to grant religious freedom to its people. On October 4, S. A. Lovzovsky, official spokesman for the Soviet Government, announced that no modification would be made in the treatment of religious liberty in Russia. His statement to the press attributed the controversy in America to pro-German influence and waved the big rumpus aside as, “Much Ado About Nothing”.
Russia cast the proposal of President Roosevelt to the winds. They solicit much of our materials to aid them to defeat Germany but do not intend to change their communistic teachings and beliefs to secure the help they want. Their atheistic, anti-religious beliefs are to be propagated wherever possible.