Commissariat of Justice, Resolution Concerning Execution of the Decree of Separation of Church and State, and of School from Church. August 24, 1918
Original Source: Izvestiia, No. 186, 30 August 1918.
1. The decree concerning “Separation of Church and State, and of School from Church” (Compilation of Decrees, No. 18, Article 263) applies to: a) The following churches: The Orthodox, The Old Believers’ Church, the Roman Catholic Church of all Rites, the Armenian -Gregorian, and the Protestant Church, and the following Creeds: the Jewish, the Mohammedan, the Buddhist-Lamaite; b) all other private religious associations formed for the purpose of religious worship according to any religious cult, prior to as well as after the promulgation of the decree concerning the “Separation of Church and State, etc.,” and also c) all associations membership in which is limited solely to persons of one and the same creed, and which, be it even under the guise of charity, education, or other aims, serve the purpose of rendering direct support and assistance to any religious cult whatsoever (in the shape of maintaining the ministers of such cult, or institutions of the cult, etc.).
2. All associations mentioned in Article I under the Decree concerning the “Separation of Church and State, etc.,” are deprived of the rights of a juridical person. Individual members of such associations shall have the right to arrange only collections for the purpose of acquiring property for religious purposes, and for satisfying other religious needs.
3. Charitable, educational, and other similar associations mentioned in clause ‘”c” of Article I, as well as those of them which, although veiling their religious aims under the guise of charity or education, etc., spend money for religious purposes, shall be closed, all their property being turned over by the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies to the corresponding Commissariats or Departments.
Property Intended for the Observance of Religious Rites
4. All property which, at the time the Decree concerning the “Separation of Church and State, etc.” was promulgated, was under the management of the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Department and other religious and ecclesiastic institutions and associations, shall under. the Decree be transferred to the direct management of the local Soviets of Worker-Peasant Deputies, on conditions laid down in the following articles.
5. The local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall make it incumbent upon the representatives of the former ecclesiastical departments or other persons belonging to the given religious creed, in whose actual possession and management is the church and all other property for purposes of religious worship, to compile in triplicate, a specification of all property intended specially for the performance of divine service and religious rites. According to such specification the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies takes over the property from the representatives of the said religious cult, and hands it over, together with the specification, for use free of charge, to such local inhabitants of the same religious creed who want to use such property; the second copy of the specification, with the signatures of those who have taken the property over, shall be kept in the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, while the third copy is to be sent to the Commissariat of Education.
6. The number of local inhabitants required for obtaining the use of such ritual property shall be fixed by the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, but cannot be less than 20 persons.
7. If the representatives of the abolished Ecclesiastical Department, or those persons in whose actual possession the given property is, refuse to produce the required specification, as mentioned in Article 5, the representative of the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall check such property and compile a list of it in the presence of the group of persons to whom such property is to be handed over, or their representatives, before witnesses summoned from the number of local inhabitants, and shall turn it over to the group of persons of the respective creed who have stated their wish to receive such ritual property for use for purposes of religious worship.
8. Those who have taken over the property for use shall undertake: (I.) to keep it carefully, as property of the people entrusted to them; (II.) to keep the said property in good repair, and cover all expenditure connected with the possession of the property, such as: expenses for heating, insurance, protection, payment of debts, local taxes and dues, etc.; (III.) to make use of such property solely for the purpose of meeting religious requirements; (IV.) to make good all losses during the use of such property, bearing joint responsibility for the integrity of the property entrusted to them; (V.) to keep a detailed specification of all ritual property and to enter in this specification all subsequently added articles and objects used for religious worship (presented as gifts, transferred from other churches, etc.), provided they are not the private property of individual citizens; (VI.) to admit freely and unrestrictedly, at times when divine service is not going on, persons authorized by the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies to make periodical revisions and inspections of the property; and (VII.) in case the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies should disclose pilfering and malpractices, to immediately surrender such property to the said Soviet, whenever requested to do so. All the above conditions are to be introduced into the agreement which is to be concluded by the aforesaid group of citizens with the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies (Appendix).
9. Churches and houses of prayer of historic, artistic, and archeological value shall be transferred in accordance with a special instruction elaborated by the Museum Section of the Commissariat of Education.
10. All local inhabitants of the corresponding religion shall have the right to sign the agreement mentioned in Articles 5 to 8 also after the transfer of the said property, and they shall thus acquire the right to participate in the administration of the ritual property, on the same level as the group of people which originally received this right.
11. In case there is nobody desirous to take over on the above mentioned conditions the ritual property, the local Soviet of Worker-Peasants Deputies shall make a public offer three times through the agency of the local press, and exhibit a notice to that effect on the doors of the houses of prayer.
12. If after the expiration of one week after the last publication there is no application for taking over the property on the conditions mentioned above, the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall notify the Commissariat of Education of this. In its communication the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall state the time at which the given house of prayer was built, pointing out its merits from an economic, historic, and artistic point of view, and mentioning for what purpose it is proposed to utilize the building, with further comments, if any, on this subject.
13. On receipt of a reply from the Commissariat of Education, the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies will carry out the suggestion of the Commissariat of Education, or, if there are none, its own notions on this point.
14. So-called sacred objects contained or kept in buildings not utilized for religious purposes may be handed over either to a group of persons belonging to the corresponding religious creed in accordance with the rules laid down in Articles 5 to 8, or else be turned over to the corresponding institutions of the Soviet Republic.
15. The erection of new churches and houses of prayer shall be permitted unrestrictedly on the condition that general technical rules applying to building work are observed. Estimates and plans of the construction are subject to approval of the Architectural Commission of the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies. Completion of such building work shall be guaranteed by the builders by depositing with the State Treasury a certain sum to be fixed by the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, which sum shall be paid back in installments to cover building expenses in the measure as the work progresses. Possession of the thus constructed church is to be given in conformity with Articles 5 to 8 of the present Instruction.
16. All other property of Church and religious associations which does not serve special religious or ritual purposes, also property of the abolished departments, such as: buildings, landed property, country estates, works, candle factories and other factories, fishing grounds, hospices, hotels, funds, and’ generally speaking, all property yielding profit, irrespective of the character of such property, which has up to the present not yet been taken over by the Soviet institutions, shall immediately be confiscated and taken away from the said associations and (abolished) departments.
17. The local Soviets of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall request the representatives of the (abolished) religious departments, Sections of the People’s Bank, Savings Banks, and persons, in whose actual possession such property subject to nationalization may be, to furnish within a fortnight, under penalty of the law, information concerning all property belonging to local religious organizations, or to the former (abolished) religious departments.
18. Information thus received shall be actually verified and checked by persons specially authorized for this purpose by the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, and the results of such verification shall be recorded in writing, which record, together with the specification of articles of property, shall then be attached to the other documents relating to the property of the abolished religious departments and of Church or religious associations. The same is to be done with all other documents and records relating to such property. One copy of the specification submitted to the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, and verified by the latter, the said Soviet shall forward to the Commissariat of Education and the State Audit Commissariat.
19. All capital in money belonging to the abolished religious departments, and churches or other religious associations, whatever the description of such capital and wherever they may be deposited, shall, when found, be taken over by the Soviets of Worker-Peasant Deputies within a fortnight. (Appendix)
Note: If the contingency arises, the local Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall have the right to leave, at its discretion, to the group of persons who have entered into the agreement referred to in Articles 5 to 8, a certain a-mount of money required for the performance of religious rites to the end of the year.
20. All capital belonging to the abolished religious departments and Church or other religious associations, which may be in the hands of private persons or organizations, shall be claimed and called in from then within a fortnight. The holders of such monies, if they fail to comply with this regulation and omit to surrender such monies in their possession, shall be held criminally and civilly liable for embezzlement of such sums.
21. All monies thus collected must be deposited by the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies with the local Treasury Branch not later than within three days after the receipt of such monies, and shall be placed to the credit of the Republic’s name and revenue account, the receipts relating to the paying-in of Such monies to be attached to the corresponding records. The Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall be held to notify the Commissariat of Education and the State Audit Commissariat without delay of the receipt of such monies.
22. If the Church or religious associations have monies in savings banks or in branches of the People’s Bank, the bank books and banking documents and vouchers must be surrendered by the holders at the first request on the part of the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies. Such documents, after being endorsed to the effect that they are null and void, shall be attached to the other documents recorded, but the respective savings banks and branches of the People’s Bank shall be notified by the Soviet of Workmen and Peasant Deputies that the respective monies must without delay be credited to the treasury. Of this too the Commissariat of Education and the State Audit Commissariat must be informed.
23. For illicit use of property belonging to the Republic, or for intentional damage to such property, the guilty shall be held criminally responsible.
24. All measures in connection with the confiscation of Church or religious property must be completed not later than within two months after the present Instruction has been published, and information regarding execution of the Instruction must be given to the Commissariat of Education and to Section VIII. of the Commissariat of justice.
25. All law suits that might be filed subsequently concerning the rights of private persons to any I property of the abolished religious departments or religious and Church associations, nationalized in accordance with the Decree concerning “Separation of Church and State, etc.” and the present Instruction shall be tried and settled in the way of ordinary civil procedure.
Birth, Marriage and Death Registration Books
26. All registration books of all religious creeds and covering all previous years, which for one reason or another have until now not been taken away from the ecclesiastical authorities and consistories, Church administration, municipal councils (Jewish registration books), and all other provincial institutions where such books hitherto were kept, shall without delay be turned over to the Provincial (Oblast) Birth, Marriage and Death Registries.
27. Registration books covering all previous years from all urban and rural churches of any creed are subject to immediate seizure by the Soviet of the Worker-Peasant Deputies, one copy to be turned over either to the local (urban or volost) Registration Sections, or to the corresponding notary offices (in places where the notary sections attend to such registration) while the other copy (the clean copy numbered and filed) shall be sent to the Provincial Birth, Marriage and Death Registration Section. After the books have been seized, servants of the cult shall have the right to take copies from such registration books, if they need them and desire to do so.
28. In conformity with the prohibition to make on passports, or other official documents establishing personal identity, endorsements relating to
the religious creed of citizens, it shall likewise be prohibited to make on passports inscriptions or endorsements concerning the performance of certain religious rites (such as baptism, confirmation, circumcision, marriage, burial, etc.), as well as divorces pronounced by servants of religious cults, or religious institutions of any creed whatever.
Religious Ceremonies and Rites
29. In state and other public premises intended for the performance of legal acts, it shall be absolutely prohibited:
a) To conduct religious rites and ceremonies (divine services, memorial services, etc.).
b) To exhibit religious images of any description (sacred images, pictures, religious stationery of any character, etc.).
30. The local Soviet authorities shall adopt every suitable measure to eradicate such practices as mentioned in the previous article, as being contradictory to the Decree concerning freedom of conscience.
Note: The removal of religious images of artistic or historic value, as well as decisions concerning their further fate, shall be attended to with the consent of the Commissariat of Education.
31. Religious processions, and the performance of religious rites in streets and public places, shall be permitted only by written permission of the local Soviet authorities, which permission the arrangers of such procession shall be held to obtain in good time, and at any rate not later than two days previous to the proposed performance of the religious ceremony. In the matter of issuing such permission the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall be guided by Article 5 of the Decree concerning “Separation of Church and State, etc.”
32. The local Soviet authorities shall remove, or cause the competent or concerned persons to remove, from churches and other houses of prayer constituting national property all articles offending the religious feelings of the labor masses, such as: marble or other boards, inscriptions on the walls and on objects used for divine service, in memory of any persons who were members of the dynasty overthrown by the People, or its supporters.
Religious Instruction and Teaching
33. In view of the separation of School and Church, instruction in any creed must not in any case be permitted in state, public, and private educational establishments, with the exception of purely theological establishments.
34. All credits voted for religious instruction in schools shall be immediately stopped, and leaders of religious creeds shall be deprived of all rations and supplies hitherto issued to them. No state or other public institution shall have the right to issue the instructors of religion any monies for the present time or due to them since the month of January 1918.
35. The buildings of spiritual, educational and training establishments of any creed, as well as of the parish church schools, shall, as national property, be turned over to the local Soviets of Worker-Peasant Deputies, or to the Commissariat of Education.
Note: The Soviets of Worker-Peasant Deputies may lease or let such buildings for the purpose of establishing in them special training establishments of any religious creed, on general conditions applicable to an citizens, and with the knowledge of the Commissariat of Education.
Signed: Commissar of Justice: D. KURSKII August 24, 1918.
We, the undersigned citizens (of such and such a locality or town), residing in such locality, have concluded the present agreement with the … (such and such) Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, represented by its plenipotentiary (office, name and surname) to the effect that on this … day of the month of … in the year … we have taken over for use, for an indefinite period and free of charge, the (description of the Church or religious building) situated ( … ), with property required for ritual purposes in accordance with a special list, signed by ourselves, on the following conditions:
1. We, the undersigned citizens, undertake to maintain and keep the national property entrusted to us, and to use it solely for the purpose it is intended for, assuming all responsibility for the integrity and safety of such property entrusted to ‘us, and also for the fulfillment of other obligations devolving on us under this Agreement.
2. We undertake to use, and to permit our co-religionists to use, the churches and ritual articles in them solely for the purpose of satisfying religious needs.
3. We undertake to make sure that the property entrusted to us is made no other use of than for purposes mentioned in Articles 1 and 2 of this Agreement.
More particularly we undertake to prohibit in religious buildings and premises taken over by ourselves:
A) Political meetings hostile to the Soviet regime.
B) The spreading or selling of books, pamphlets, and other literature hostile to the Soviet regime or its individual representatives, and,
C) Delivering sermons and speeches hostile to the Soviet regime or its individual representatives.
D) The ringing of alarm bells for the’ purpose of calling up the population’ and inciting it against the Soviet regime; in view of which we undertake to fulfill all regulations and orders of the local Soviet of Workmen and Peasant Deputies in regard to the rules for using belfries and bell towers.
4. We undertake to cover from our own sources all current expenses in connection with the maintenance of the Church (or other building for religious purposes) and articles or objects in it, such as: keeping it in a proper state of repair, heating, insurance, guarding, payment of debts, taxes, local imposts, etc.
5. We undertake to keep an ‘inventory of the entire ritual property in which we shall enter all articles newly acquired (by way of gifts, offerings, or transfer from other churches) for ritual purposes, unless they are the private property of individual citizens.
6. We undertake to admit without restriction, at times when no divine service is going on, persons authorized by the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies to inspect and check the property.
7. For loss of, or damage to, articles entrusted to us we assume civil liability conjointly, to the extent of the actual loss or damage sustained.
8. In case of return of property entrusted to us, we undertake to return it in the same shape and condition in which we received it for use and for keeping.
9. In cemetery churches and in grave yards we undertake to bury coreligionists, in case persons interested desire it, with observance of religious rites which in all cases must be at equal fees for all citizens, the amount of such fee to be brought by ourselves to public notice every year.
10. In the event we fail to adopt all measures in our power in order to fulfill all our obligations under this agreement, or for direct infractions of the provisions of this Agreement, we shall be criminally liable and shall be dealt with all severity of revolutionary law; and in such contingencies the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies shall have the right to cancel this Agreement.
11. In case we desire to terminate this Agreement, we undertake to give notice in writing to the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, and for the space of one week after such notice has been given by us to the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, the provisions of this Agreement shall continue binding on us, and we shall continue to be responsible for its execution; we also undertake to return within this space of time the property taken over by us.
12. Every one of us who has signed this Agreement shall have the right to withdraw from it, giving notice in writing to the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies; this, however, shall not relieve the given person of liability for losses and damage sustained by the respective national property during the time the given person participated in the use and administration of such property, prior to giving the Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies notice of his intention to withdraw.
13. None of us, nor all of us taken together, shall have the right to refuse any citizen, who is our coreligionist and not disqualified by verdict of court, to sign after this date the present Agreement, and to participate in the administration and management of the property mentioned in this Agreement, on the identical conditions with all other persons who have signed it.
The original of this Agreement shall be kept by the … Soviet of Worker-Peasant Deputies, and a duly certified copy shall be issued to the group of citizens who have signed the Agreement, and who have taken over for religious uses the Church and the ritual articles in it, as specified in the inventory.
Source: Boleslaw B. Szczesniak, ed. and tr., Russian Revolution and Religion; a collection of documents concerning the suppression of religion by the Communists, 1917-1925 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959), pp. 40-46.