2020 ICLRS Symposium: Heiner Bielefeld’s Speech

Heiner Bielefeldt is Full Professor of human rights and human rights politics at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany

My specific theme today is “responsibility,” responsibility on behalf of religious freedom. I will distinguish between different layers or dimensions of responsibility.

Within the human rights movement, there seems to be some hesitancy to talk about responsibility. Certain governments like to invoke responsibility as “duties to the state” so the enjoyment of human rights becomes dependent on a prior fulfillment of citizens’ duties as defined by those governments. That, of course, can make the status of human rights including religious freedom precarious. Many human rights activists remain cautious in using the vocabulary of “responsibility.” We need a more precise way of addressing responsibility with diligence, precision, and caution but also with enthusiasm. So it is in this spirit that I will distinguish three different levels of responsibility to religious freedom as a human right.


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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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The Trinity, the “Prevailing Religion,” and the Greek Constitution

Effie Fokas, Senior Research Fellow, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy; Research Associate, London School of Economics Hellenic Observatory

The implications, potential and real, of the references to religion in the Greek Constitution entail a perennial socio-legal conundrum in Greece and the subject of intense legal and political debate. In this post, I will introduce readers to those references to religion in the text of the constitution and explore some ways in which they have both potential and real impact upon Greek socio-legal life.

The Current Greek Constitution and Sacramental Categories

The current Greek Constitution was drafted in 1974 following the end of a military dictatorship; it came into effect in 1975 and underwent amendments in 1986, 2001, 2008, and 2019. Consistently, however, since its 1974 formulation, the Constitution of Greece is  presented “[i]n the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity”; these are the words the reader first encounters under the title, “The Constitution of Greece.” To the general reader, “consubstantial” will be a rather unintelligible theological notion; it means “of one and the same substance, essence, or nature” and denotes here the oneness of the three “persons” of the Trinity—God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. (more…)

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