By Beth Webb
THE Polish Government has denied allegations by Polish Bishops that the State is violating children's • rights by teaching "programmed atheism" in schools.
The claims were made in a pastoral letter read out in churches in Poland • last Sunday, and is the first major Church attack on Mr Gierek's government since the visit of Pope John Paul II earlier this year.
The letter, drawn up by bishops in the presence of the Pope last June, says that even in the International Year of the Child, the State has been turning its back on its pledges of freedom of conscience, often in a brutal way, undermining the authority of parents and harassing children for declaring their convictions.
Cases were cited where fear of penalties had forced children to hide their. beliefs. Furthermore the letter says, the role of religion in Polish . culture has been so severely supressed that the younger generation "show an embarassing ignorance about their culture."
The bishops also accused the mass media of demoralising children by promoting "licentiosness and the easy life, in the name of progress."
A particularly sensitive area for the Polish government was the letter's insistence that, because pay is so low, mothers were forced to work and forced to leave their children unattended all day.
One letter also condemned any form of birth control other than the rhythm method and urged doctors and nurses to refuse to perform abortions which are legal under Polish law.
The Government has retaliated by accusing the Church of exercising moral blackmail on children who attend catechism classes.
Meanwhile. yet another Catholic committee for the defence of believers has been formed in Poland.
Keston College, the centre for the study of religion in Eastern Europe, says that in the newlybuilt area of Przemysl, the population of 7,000 found that they had no place to worship. A temporary chapel was built but soon had to be enlarged.
The authorities are then said to have started to harass the people involved, including the priest who's car was confiscated, The people sent a delegation to Warsaw to the Ministry for Religious Affairs, but they were told it was up to the Ministry to decide whether a church was needed.
The committee has been formed to protect their rights under article 82 of the Polish Constitution — which guarantees religious freedom — and article 18 of the International Pacts on Human and Civil Rights.
The committee offers to help other groups fighting for their rights, and appeals for selfdefence committees to be set up in every diocese. "We demand the immediate return of our priest's car, and an end to all repression of the people involved in the building of the chapel."
Keston College says more than 1,000 people have signed the appeal in the face of police pressure.