The Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs (Litvinov) to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: In reply to your letter of November 16, 1933, I have the honor to inform you that the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a fixed policy accords the nationals of the United States within the territory of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics the following rights referred to by you:

1. The right to “free exercise of liberty of conscience and religious worship” and protection “from all disability or persecution on account of their religious faith or worship”.

This right is supported by the following laws and regulations existing in the various republics of the Union:

Every person may profess any religion or none. All restrictions of rights connected with the profession of any belief whatsoever, or with the non-profession of any belief, are annulled. (Decree of Jan. 23, 1918, art. 3.)

Within the confines of the Soviet Union it is prohibited to issue any local laws or regulations restricting or limiting freedom of conscience, or establishing privileges or preferential rights of any kind based upon the religious profession of any person. (Decree of Jan. 23, 1918, art. 2.)

2. The right to “conduct without annoyance or molestation of any kind religious services and rites of a ceremonial nature”.

This right is supported by the following laws:

A free performance of religious rites is guaranteed as long as it does not interfere with public order and is not accompanied by interference with the rights of citizens of the Soviet Union. Local authorities possess the right in such cases to adopt all necessary measures to preserve public order and safety. (Decree of Jan. 23, 1918, art. 5.)

Interference with the performance of religious rites, in so far as they do not endanger public order and are not accompanied by infringements on the rights of others is punishable by compulsory labour for a period up to six months. (Criminal Code, art. 127.)

3. “The right and opportunity to lease, erect or maintain in convenient [Page 809] situations” churches, houses or other buildings appropriate for religious purposes.

This right is supported by the following laws and regulations:

Believers belonging to a religious society with the object of making provision for their requirements in the matter of religion may lease under contract, free of charge, from the Sub-District or District Executive Committee or from the Town Soviet, special buildings for the purpose of worship and objects intended exclusively for the purposes of their cult. (Decree of April 8, 1929, art. 10.)

Furthermore, believers who have formed a religious society or a group of believers may use for religious meetings other buildings which have been placed at their disposal on lease by private persons or by local Soviets and Executive Committees. All rules established for houses of worship are applicable to these buildings. Contracts for the use of such buildings shall be concluded by individual believers who will be held responsible for their execution. In addition, these buildings must comply with the sanitary and technical building regulations. (Decree of April 8, 1929, art. 10.)

The place of worship and religious property shall be handed over for the use of believers forming a religious society under a contract concluded in the name of the competent District Executive Committee or Town Soviet by the competent administrative department or branch, or directly by the Sub-District Executive Committee. (Decree of April 8, 1929, art. 15.)

The construction of new places of worship may take place at the desire of religious societies provided that the usual technical building regulations and the special regulations laid down by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs are observed. (Decree of April 8, 1929, art. 45.)

4. “The right to collect from their co-religionists …35 voluntary offerings for religious purposes.”

This right is supported by the following law:

Members of groups of believers and religious societies may raise subscriptions among themselves and collect voluntary offerings, both in the place of worship itself and outside it, but only amongst the members of the religious association concerned and only for purposes connected with the upkeep of the place of worship and the religious property, for the engagement of ministers of religion and for the expenses of their executive body. Any form of forced contribution in aid of religious associations is punishable under the Criminal Code. (Decree of April 8, 1929, art. 54.)

5. Right to “impart religious instruction to their children either singly or in groups or to have such instruction imparted by persons whom they may employ for such purpose.”

This right is supported by the following law:

The school is separated from the Church. Instruction in religious doctrines is not permitted in any governmental and common schools, nor in private teaching institutions where general subjects are [Page 810] taught. Persons may give or receive religious instruction in a private manner. (Decree of Jan. 23, 1918, art. 9.)

Furthermore, the Soviet Government is prepared to include in a consular convention to be negotiated immediately following the establishment of relations between our two countries provisions in which nationals of the United States shall be granted rights with reference to freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion which shall not be less favorable than those enjoyed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by nationals of the nation most favored in this respect. In this connection, I have the honor to call to your attention Article 9 of the Treaty between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, signed at Moscow October 12, 1925, which reads as follows:

Nationals of each of the Contracting Parties …36 shall be entitled to hold religious services in churches, houses or other buildings, rented, according to the laws of the country, in their national language or in any other language which is customary in their religion. They shall be entitled to bury their dead in accordance with their religious practice in burial-grounds established and maintained by them with the approval of the competent authorities, so long as they comply with the police regulations of the other Party in respect of buildings and public health.

Furthermore, I desire to state that the rights specified in the above paragraphs will be granted to American nationals immediately upon the establishment of relations between our two countries.

Finally, I have the honor to inform you that the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, while reserving to itself the right of refusing visas to Americans desiring to enter the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on personal grounds, does not intend to base such refusals on the fact of such persons having an ecclesiastical status.

I am [etc.]

Maxim Litvinoff
  1. Omission indicated in the original.
  2. Omission indicated in the original letter.