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State atheism

State atheism was an official policy of anti-clericalism in the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist countries.[1] The Soviet Union used the term gosateizm, a syllabic abbreviation of "state" (gosudarvstvo) and "atheism" (ateizm), to refer to a policy of expropriation of religious property, publication of information against religion and the official promotion of anti-religious materials in the education system. Governments that have implemented official policies of anti-clericalism oppose religious institutional power and influence in all aspects of public and political life, including the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen.

The United States, and other secular countries, have used international treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to campaign for freedom of religion within politically repressive governments.[2]


  • Human rights 1
  • Communist states 2
    • Soviet Union 2.1
    • Albania 2.2
    • China 2.3
    • Cuba 2.4
    • North Korea 2.5
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5

Human rights

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is designed to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. In 1993, the UN's human rights committee declared that article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief."[3] The committee further stated that "the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views." Signatories to the convention are barred from "the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers" to recant their beliefs or convert.[4] Despite this, as of 2003 minority religions were still being still persecuted in many parts of the world.[5][6]

Theodore Roosevelt condemned the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, establishing a history of U.S. presidents commenting on the internal religious liberty of foreign countries.[2] In Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union address, he outlined Four Freedoms, including Freedom of worship, that would be foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and future U.S. diplomatic efforts.[2] Jimmy Carter asked Deng Xiaoping to improve religious freedom in China, and Ronald Reagan told US Embassy staff in Moscow to help Jews harassed by the Soviet authorities.[2][7] Bill Clinton established the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, in order to use diplomacy to promote religious liberty in repressive states.[8]

Communist states

A communist state, in popular usage, is a state with a form of government characterized by single-party rule or dominant-party rule of a communist party and a professed allegiance to a Leninist or Marxist–Leninist communist ideology as the guiding principle of the state. The founder and primary theorist of Marxism, the nineteenth-century German sociologist Karl Marx, had an ambivalent attitude to religion, viewing it primarily as "the opium of the people" that had been used by the ruling classes to give the working classes false hope for millennia, whilst at the same time recognizing it as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions.[9] In the Marxist–Leninist interpretation of Marxist theory, developed primarily by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, religion is seen as negative to human development, and communist states that follow a Marxist–Leninist variant are atheistic and explicitly antireligious.[10] Lenin states:

Although Marx and Lenin were both atheists, several religious communist groups exist, including Christian communists.

Soviet Union

USSR. 1922 issue of the Bezbozhnik (The Godless) magazine. By 1934, 28% of Eastern Orthodox churches, 42% of Muslim mosques and 52% of Jewish synagogues were shut down in the USSR.[11]

After the Russian Civil War, anti religious movements in the Soviet Union (gosateizm) attempted to stop the spread of religious beliefs as well as remove "prerevolutionary remnants".[1] The Bolsheviks were particularly hostile to the Russian Orthodox Church (which supported the White Movement during the Russian Civil War) and saw it as a supporter of Tsarist autocracy.[12] During a process of collectivization of land, Orthodox priests distributed pamphlets declaring that the Soviet regime was the Antichrist coming to place “the Devil’s mark” on the peasants, and encouraged them to resist the government.[12] Political repression was widespread in the Soviet Union, and while religious persecution was applied to most religions,[13] the regime's anti-religious campaigns were often directed against specific religions based on state interests, that varied over time. The attitude in the Soviet Union toward religion varied from a total ban on some religions to official support of others.

From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, such organizations as the Soviet calendar, which had the side-effect that a "holiday will seldom fall on Sunday".[14]

Within about a year of the revolution, the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed (a much greater number was subjected to persecution).[13] Most seminaries were closed, and publication of religious writing was banned.[13] The Russian Orthodox Church, which had 54,000 parishes before World War I, was reduced to 500 by 1940.[13] A meeting of the Antireligious Commission of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) that occurred on 23 May 1929 estimated the portion of believers in the USSR at 80 percent, though this percentage may be understated to prove the successfulness of the struggle with religion.[15]

Despite the Soviet Union's attempts to eliminate religion,[16][17][18] other former USSR and anti-religious nations, such as

  • Davies, Norman. 1996. Europe: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Elsie, Robert. 2000. A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture. C. Hurst & Co. ISBN 978-1-85065-570-1.
  • Elsie, Robert. 2001. A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-2214-8.
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. 2007. Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760–1815. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-33445-0.
  • Greeley, Andrew M. 2003. Religion in Europe at the end of the second millennium: a sociological profile. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.
  • Jacques, Edwin E. 1995. The Albanians: an ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-89950-932-7.
  • Marx, Karl. February, 1844. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher.
  • Jonassohn, Kurt and Karin Solveig Bjeornson. 1998. Genocide and Gross Human Rights Violations. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-7658-0417-4.
  • McCann, David R. 1997. Korea briefing: toward reunification, Volume 4 of Korea briefing, Asia Society Briefings Series, Asia Society Country Briefing, Briefings of the Asia Society. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-1-56324-885-6
  • Miner, Steven Merritt. 2003. Stalin's holy war religion, nationalism, and alliance politics, 1941–1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Pospielovsky, Dimitry. 1935. The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia Published 1998. St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 413 pages, ISBN 0-88141-179-5.
  • Spielvogel, Jackson. 2005. Western Civilization: Combined Volume. Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Tallet, Frank. 1991. Religion, Society and Politics in France Since 1789. Continuum International Publishing
  • Wolak, Arthur J. 2004. Forced out: the fate of Polish Jewry in Communist Poland. Tucson, Ariz: Fenestra Books.


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See also

North Korea has been designated a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department since 2001 due to its religious freedom violations.[91][92] Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk has said that, "There's no knowledge of priests surviving persecution that came in the late forties, when 166 priests and religious were killed or kidnapped," which includes the Roman Catholic bishop of Pyongyang, Francis Hong Yong-ho.[93] On November 2013, the repression against religious people led to the public execution of 80 people, some of them for possessing Bibles.[4][91][94]

The North Korean government promotes the cult of personality of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, described as a political religion, as well as the Juche ideology, based on Korean ultranationalism, which calls on people to "avoid spiritual deference to outside influences", which was interpreted as including religion originating outside of Korea.[4][61]

Although the North Korean constitution states that freedom of religion is permitted,[87] free religious activities no longer exist in North Korea, as the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.[88][89][90] After 1,500 churches were destroyed during the rule of Kim Il Sung from 1948 to 1994, three churches were built in Pyongyang to deflect human rights criticism.[88]

North Korea

In 1976 the Constitution of Cuba added a clause stating that the "socialist state...bases its activity on, and educates the people in, the scientific materialist concept of the universe". In 1992, the Dissolution of the Soviet Union lead the country to declare itself a secular state,[80][81] and Catholic groups have worked to advance the Cuban thaw. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II paid a historic visit to the island, invited by the Cuban government and the Catholic Church in Cuba. The pope criticized the US embargo during his visit.[82] Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 2012 and Pope Francis visited in 2015.[83][84][85][86]

Originally more tolerant of religion, Cuba began arresting many believers and shutting down religious schools after the Bay of Pigs invasion. In 1961 The Cuban government confiscated Catholic schools, including the Jesuit school Fidel Castro had attended. In 1965 it exiled two hundred priests.[79]

In August 1960, several bishops signed a joint pastoral letter condemning communism and declaring it incompatible with Catholicism, and calling on Catholics to reject it.[78] Castro gave a four-hour speech the next day, condemning priests who serve "great wealth" and using fears of Falangist influence to attack Spanish born priests, declaring "There is no doubt that Franco has a sizeable group of fascist priests in Cuba."

Religion in Cuba (2010)[77]

  Catholicism (60%)
  Protestantism and other Christians (5%)
  Others/African Religious (11%)
  Non-religious (24%)


The U.S. State Department has designated China as a “country of particular concern” since 1999,[68][69] in part, due to the scenario of Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. Freedom House classifies Tibet and Xinjiang as regions of particular repression of religion, due to concerns of separatist activity.[70][71][72][73][74] Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief says that China's actions against the Uighurs are "a major problem".[75] The Chinese government has protested the report, saying the country has "ample" religious freedom.[76]

Statistics relating to Buddhism and religious Taoism are to some degree incomparable with statistics for Islam and Christianity. This is due to the traditional Chinese belief system which blends Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, so that a person who follows a traditional belief system would not necessarily identify him- or herself as exclusively Buddhist or Taoist, despite attending Buddhist or Taoist places of worship. According to Peter Ng, Professor of the Department of Religion at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as of 2002, 95% of Chinese were religious in some way if religion is considered to include traditional folk practices such as burning incense for gods or ancestors at life-cycle or seasonal festivals, fortune telling and related customary practices.[66][67]

  • Buddhists 8%.
  • Taoists, unknown as a percentage partly because it is fused along with Confucianism and Buddhism.
  • Muslims, 1%, with more than 20,000 Imams. Other estimates state at least 1%.
  • Christians, Protestants at least 3%. Catholics, about 1.5%.

[65] Most people report no organized religious affiliation; however, people with a belief in folk traditions and spiritual beliefs, such as

Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.[63]

Article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China of 1982 specifies that:

[61] [61] However, the state is not allowed to force ordinary citizens to become atheists.[60] The Communist Party has said that religious belief and membership are incompatible.

During the Cultural Revolution, student vigilantes known as Red Guards converted religious buildings for secular use or destroyed them. This attitude, however, relaxed considerably in the late 1970s, with the reform and opening up period. The 1978 Constitution of the People's Republic of China guaranteed freedom of religion with a number of restrictions. Since then, there has been a massive program to rebuild Buddhist and Taoist temples that were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.

Traditionally, a large segment of the Chinese population took part in Chinese folk religions[54] and Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism had had a significant role in the everyday life of ordinary people.[55][56][57] After the 1949 Chinese Revolution, China began a period of rule by the Communist Party of China.[58][59] For much of its early history, that government maintained under Marxist thought that religion would ultimately disappear, and characterized it as emblematic of feudalism and foreign colonialism.

Religion in China overall based on different surveys[50][51][52][53]

  Agnostic or atheist (42%)
  Folk religions and Taoism (30%)
  Buddhism (18%)
  Christianity (4%)
  Ethnic minorities indigenous religions (including Vajrayana and Theravada) (4%)
  Islam (2%)


[46] The U.S. state department reports that in 2013, "There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice."[49] Today, Gallup Global Reports 2010 shows that religion plays a role in the lives of 39% of Albanians, and ranks Albania the thirteenth least religious country in the world.[48] Before World War II, there was given a distribution of 70% Muslims, 20% Eastern Orthodox, and 10% Roman Catholics.[47] or belongs to other religious groups.irreligious is practiced by 16.99% of the population, making it the 2nd largest religion in the country. The remaining population is either Christianity Shia minority. Bektashi in the country. The majority of Albanian Muslims are secular Sunni with a significant religion, making it the largest Islam and 2011 census found that 58.79% of Albanians adhere to [45] The 1998

The article was interpreted by Danes as violating The United Nations Charter (chapter 9, article 55) which declares that religious freedom is an inalienable human right. The first time that the question came before the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights at Geneva was as late as 7 March 1983. A delegation from Denmark got its protest over Albania's violation of religious liberty placed on the agenda of the thirty-ninth meeting of the commission, item 25, reading, "Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.", and on 20 July 1984 a member of the Danish Parliament inserted an article into one of Denmark's major newspapers protesting the violation of religious freedom in Albania.

Parents were afraid to pass on their faith, for fear that their children would tell others. Officials tried to entrap practicing Christians and Muslims during religious fasts, such as Lent and Ramadan, by distributing dairy products and other forbidden foods in school and at work, and then publicly denouncing those who refused the food. Those clergy who conducted secret services were incarcerated.[41] Catholic priest Shtjefen Kurti had been executed for secretly baptizing a child in Shkodër in 1972.[44]

Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution of 1976 stipulated, "The state recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.",[43] and the penal code of 1977 imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for "religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature." A new decree that in effect targeted Albanians with Muslim and Christian names, stipulating that citizens whose names did not conform to "the political, ideological, or moral standards of the state" were to change them. It was also decreed that towns and villages with religious names must be renamed. Hoxha's brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment. Individuals caught with Bibles, Qurans, icons, or other religious objects faced long prison sentences. Religious weddings were prohibited.

Clerics were publicly vilified and humiliated, their vestments taken and desecrated. More than 200 clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture, and some were executed or starved to death. The cloister of the Franciscan order in Shkodër was set on fire, which resulted in the death of four elderly monks.[41]

The campaign against religion peaked in the 1960s. Beginning in 1967 the Albanian authorities began a campaign to eliminate religious life in Albania. Despite complaints, even by APL members, all churches, mosques, monasteries, and other religious institutions were either closed down or converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, or workshops by the end of 1967.[42] By May 1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people. As the literary monthly Nendori reported the event, the youth had thus "created the first atheist nation in the world."[41]

[41] Religious communities or branches that had their headquarters outside the country, such as the

State atheism in Albania was taken to an extreme during the totalitarian regime installed after World War II, when religions, identified as imports foreign to Albanian culture, were banned altogether.[40] The Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945 nationalized most property of religious institutions, including the estates of mosques, monasteries, orders, and dioceses. Many clergy and believers were tried and some were executed. All foreign Roman Catholic priests, monks, and nuns were expelled in 1946.[41]


Today in the Russian Federation, approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, amounting to 70% of population, although the Church claims a membership of 80 million.[32][33][34] According to the CIA Factbook, however, only 17% to 22% of the population is now Christian.[35] According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 63% of respondents considered themselves Russian Orthodox, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslim and less than 1% considered themselves either Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Another 12% said they believe in God, but did not practice any religion, and 16% said they are non-believers.[36] In Ukraine, 96.1% of the Ukrainian population is Christian.[37] In Lithuania, the only Catholic country which was once a Soviet republic,[38] a 2005 report stated that 79% of Lithuanians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.[39]

Nonetheless, their knowledge of their faith and the faith of others notwithstanding, many post-Soviet populations have a large presence of religious followers. [31] Author Niels Christian Nielsen has written that the post-Soviet population in areas which were formerly predominantly Orthodox are now "nearly illiterate regarding religion", almost completely lacking the intellectual or philosophical aspects of their faith and having almost no knowledge of other faiths.[30] have high religious populations.[29]

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