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How the separation of church and state did not take place in 1920

The Czechoslovak Republic founded on October 28 also displays a clear effort to separate the state from the church in one of its founding documents, the Washington Declaration of 18 October 1918. This principle was then incorporated into the draft constitution. Thus, among other areas, Czechoslovakia could have become a truly modern state.

However, this did not happen. Such a demand for separation was too radical for the time. In addition, complications with the organization of religious issues, especially in Slovakia and Subcarpathian Russia, as well as the emergence of the new Czechoslovak Church redirected the social energy and determination of the founders of the state to seek more pragmatic solutions. The 1920 Constitution (adopted from February 1920) thus abandoned the idea of strict separation of church and state.

Historians state that the principle of separation did not make it into the first Czechoslovak constitution is, among other reasons, that no one was able to determine the actual number of believers and of those who only had a formal relationship with the church. It was estimated that the vast majority of citizens belonged to the church, and that separation could, therefore, provoke destructive resistance to the fragile order of nascent republic. The state officials were also did not want to risk strengthening the Hungarian separatism of the Catholic and Calvinist churches in Slovakia. A similar problem threatened areas with a German-speaking population.

The draft constitution of the first Czechoslovak Republic contained the wording: "Let there be a separation between the state and the church". However, all Slovak deputies opposed its adoption. They obtained the deletion of this article in exchange for the promise not to demand that the autonomy of Slovakia be enshrined in the constitution, and not to vote against the establishment of counties as an administrative structure of the new republic. Some would say that the connection of the church to the state was of greater value to the Slovaks at that time than autonomy.

Although several political parties later sought to enforce this separation, it never took place.

D 3 December 2020    AOndrej Prostredník

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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