2020 ICLRS Symposium: Renata Uitz’s Speech

Renáta Uitz is Professor and Chair (Director) of the Comparative Constitutional Law at the Central European University

In addition to the theme of “Rights and Responsibilities,” the 2020 ICLRS Symposium gave tribute to W. Cole Durham, Jr., founder of ICLRS. Professor Uitz’s remarks were part of that tribute.

I have known Cole Durham for almost two decades. First, I met him in the classroom at Central European University that was still in Budapest. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together at conferences and workshops. And I also had the utmost privilege of seeing him interact with national and international civil servants who were preparing to draft or redraft legislation on church/state relations. I learned a lot from Cole over these years. More importantly, I learned an equally great deal from watching him interact with civil servants, activists, church leaders, and especially watch him when his audience did not want to hear what he said. The lessons I take away from these experiences are applicable amidst crises and across divides. They are, of course, relevant for issues of law and religion, but they are especially instructive for any work on resilience and resistance strategies at an age when illiberal and populist political actors are steadily on the rise. These political actors very often instrumentalize religion to sow the seeds of distrust and discord against minorities, and they use the law very often to demonize and stigmatize others, including religious minorities. Cole’s work allows us to study the law and the workings of the law in comparative perspectives. His work teaches us that we should focus not on a single event, no matter how dramatic or spectacular, but put legal rules into a broader context making sure that we understand the larger trends.


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The Notion of God and Christian Heritage in Polish Constitutions

Piotr Szymaniec holds the degree of Habilitated Doctor of Law from the University of Wrocław. He is a professor at the Institute of Socio-Legal Studies at the Angelus Silesius University of Applied Sciences in Wałbrzych (Poland).

In the 19th-century, when there was no independent Poland on the map of Europe, Catholicism became an important factor in building a modern Polish nation. It is no wonder, then, that the first constitution of the re-established Poland, of March 17, 1921 (the “March Constitution”), contained several religious elements, even though it was modeled after the Constitutional Laws of the Third French Republic of 1875.

The March Constitution started with the proper invocation of God (invocatio Dei) in the preamble: “In the name of Almighty God! We, the Polish Nation, grateful to Providence for setting us free from a servitude of a century and a half . . . .” During the drafting phase, proposals that only a Pole who is Catholic could be president of the country were introduced and voted on twice[1]. Ultimately, such a provision did not appear, but the president, regardless of his religion, was still required to take the Catholic oath contained in Article 54:

I swear to Almighty God, One in the Holy Trinity, and I vow to Thee, Polish Nation, that while holding the office of President of the Republic I will keep and defend faithfully the laws of the Republic and above all the constitutional law; … that I will devote myself individually to the duties of office and service. So help me God and the Holy Martyrdom of His Son. Amen.

It is quite surprising that the authoritarian Polish Constitution of April 23, 1935 (the “April Constitution”) had very few references to religion. The religious form of the president’s oath was maintained, but there was no preamble or invocatio Dei. The name of God was mentioned, however, in a very special context: Article 2 pointed out that the President of the Republic stood at the head of the State and that “the responsibility before God and history for the destinies of the State rests on him.”

After the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, one of the most discussed and controversial issues in the media was whether to include invocatio Dei in the preamble of the new Polish constitution. The political climate at the time significantly impacted the final shape of the preamble.


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God and “the Belief of Ancestors” in the Russian Constitution

Mikhail Antonov is a Professor of Law associated with the Law Faculty of the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg

One of the more controversial constitutional amendments adopted in 2020 was adding God into the Russian Constitution. Such a mention is nothing extraordinary from the standpoint of comparative constitutional law. However, the addition’s particular placement within the Russian Constitution will likely have far-reaching legal consequences, consequences that can hardly be calculated in advance in light of the remarkable vagueness of the amendment.

Article 67.1, para. 2 of the Russian Constitution stipulates:

the Russian Federation, being united by the thousand-years history and maintaining the memory of ancestors who transferred the ideals and the belief in God to us, as well as continuity in the development of the Russian State, recognizes the historically constructed state unity[1].


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