Church and State, Separation of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Church and State, Separation of


in state law, a principle that rejects interference by the state in the internal affairs of the church and that presupposes that the church will refrain from participation in government and all citizens will be free from coercion to espouse any religious creed.

“Religion must be of no concern to the state,” wrote Lenin, “and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 12, p. 143). Under Soviet power the separation of church and state was proclaimed as one of the first acts of the Soviet government, in a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR dated Jan. 23 (Feb. 5), 1918. It was subsequently confirmed in the 1918 Constitution of the RSFSR, the constitutions of the other Union republics, and the constitution of the USSR adopted in 1936. The separation of church and state is one of the constitutional principles of other socialist countries as well. In socialist states citizens are guaranteed the right not to belong to any religion and the right to conduct antireligious propaganda. No religion enjoys any privileges or is promoted by the state in any way. Religious associations are regarded as private organizations, autonomous in their internal organization and in all matters involving their faiths. In the USSR a special government agency was established to oversee application of the laws dealing with religious associations and to take the necessary measures to ensure freedom of conscience for Soviet citizens. This agency is the Council on the Affairs of Religious Denominations, under the jurisdiction of the Council of Ministers of the USSR.

In those bourgeois countries where separation of church and state has been formally instituted, the church remains in actuality part of the bourgeois state apparatus and has considerable influence. The constitutions of a number of bourgeois states, such as Sweden and Norway, recognize a particular religion as the officially established religion in that country, thus legitimizing the privileged position of a particular church.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.