Czech Republic: Restitution Bill passed

Twenty three years after the fall of communism the Parliament of the Czech Republic passed an act restoring the property confiscated under communism to churches and regulating a gradual financial separation of the church from the state.

After the Communist Party assumed control over the government in 1948 Czechoslovakia passed an act virtually eliminating the churches‘ religious freedom. The state committed itself to cover the church‘ s running costs and pastoral salaries. All pastors and church employees became public servants supervised by church secretaries employed by the state. The church could no longer freely pursue its personnel and financial policies. Each new pastor or church employee had to be approved by the state. Pastoral salaries reached their bottom. Almost the whole tangible property of the churches was confiscated.

After the fall of communism in 1989 churches regained their religious freedom. The political representatives were willing to restore the churches‘ property and to cancel the act of 1948 from the very beginning. However, the journey to the return of the properties and the separation from the state was very complicated from the political point of view. Political parties were not able to agree on the way of restoration for a long time. It was only the current right-wing government, which passed the act by a majority of only two votes. This act, applicable from the 1st January 2013, restores 56% of the confiscated property to churches (buildings, forests, fields). The remaining 44% will be compensated by financial means.

The act also regulates a gradual separation of the church from the state. The state’s contributions to pastors’ salaries will be decreasing in order to achieve a complete separation in the course of the next 17 years.

The United Methodist Church in the Czech Republic will not be given back any immovable property but will receive financial compensation as a «symbolic act of justice». In an interview Superintendent Petr Procházka, expressed that the United Methodist Church in the Czech Republic had prepared well for the future. Pastors and lay people had worked hard on a document called «UMC Strategy (2013-2030)» and subtitled «Strategy for solving financial matters connected with change in State support» – a document addressing the issue how the financial compensation can be used for missionary work in and outside the Czech Republic. In addition, the church started already years ago to gradually increase its percentage share in pastors’ salaries. «Our congregations are able to gradually increase their share in pastors’ salaries. Financial compensation from the state will help to create a reserve fund used for financing the remaining share of the salaries of pastors in smaller congregations and pastors with special assignments. We therefore do not have to be afraid of the separation from the state.»

Date: December 3, 2012
Source: Superintendent Petr Procházka