Last week, the Czech parliament adopted a measure to compensate religious organizations for the seizure of property during the Communist period. Over the next 30 years, the Czech government will give back most of the seized property and pay compensation for the rest. Most of the property will go to the Catholic Church, but Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and Jewish groups will also participate in the program. The total package is valued at billions of dollars. The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, has expressed reservations about the bill, but the vote in parliament would be enough to override any veto.
According to Reuters, the measure has been quite controversial. The Czech government has adopted an unpopular program of tax hikes and spending cuts, and many Czechs apparently resent what they see as a “gift” to religious institutions. Reuters suggests that the opposition also results from the “atheist” character of Czech society. “Atheist” may be a little strong; as Czech scholar Petr Mucha observes, most Czechs are simply indifferent to religion. Still, Czech society is quite secular, and there is a strong suspicion of organized religion, especially the Catholic Church, which many Czechs see as the historical enemy of Czech nationalism.
As for the religious organizations themselves, they are apparently delighted with the new arrangement. I wonder how long they will remain so. Since 1948, the state has been maintaining these properties. Under the new measure, the churches themselves will take on that responsibility. These old churches – they’re very expensive to keep up.