“STOP THE RELIGIOUS STATE” PETITION - removal of article 196 from Polish Penal Code in defence of artistic freedom and freedom of expression

To: Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Members of Parliament:  

Article 196 of the Polish Penal Code states the following: Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by outraging in public an object of religious worship or a place dedicated to the public celebration of religious rites, shall be subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to 2 years. This is an offence prosecuted ex officio by the public prosecutor's office.

The figures provided by the Polish National Public Prosecutor's Office reveal that the number of notifications to the public prosecutor's office regarding the suspected offence of insulting religious feelings has been growing since 2018. In 2018 there were 90 of them filed, in 2019 - 136, and 146 in 2020. Notices of a suspected criminal offence are usually filed by deeply offended right-wing politicians or Catholic organisations with Ordo Iuris at the forefront.

Artists, social activists and journalists usually run into conflict with the law on the grounds of offending someone's religious feelings. Apart from the cases brought against Adam Nergal Darski that have been pending since 2008, we should mention the recent cases covered by the media alleging offence against religious feelings, which were brought against Dorota Nieznalska for the "Passion" exhibition, Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar - for the Mother of God with a rainbow halo, the person who put the painting "Matka Boska Kermitowska" [Eng.: Kermit's Holy Mary] on auction to support the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity,  the editors of the magazine "Wysokie Obcasy" for the graphic depiction of Mother of God wearing a face mask with symbols of nationwide protests demanding protection of women's rights and freedoms, i.e. a lightning bolt and a black umbrella, Dorota Rabczewska for describing the authors of the Bible as "drunk with wine and smoking some herbs", Jerzy Urban for the graphic depiction of the "astonished Jesus".  

These cases do not usually concern religious feelings per se, but rather the dispute that has been going on among the Poles for years as to whether the position of the Catholic Church or of any other religion or religious association should influence the law and social order in the state. Once the principle that it is not permitted to offend anyone's religious views is established, freedom is determined by the sensitivity of the believer. This leads to blatant paradox that the more over-sensitive and fanatical such an individual becomes, the more freedom of speech and artistic freedom will have to be limited in order not to fall under the law on blasphemy.  

We do not accept the idea of living in such a religious state. We are against the state protecting subjective religious feelings. We are against the censorship of art. We are against the ban on criticism of the Catholic Church in Poland.  

The view established in the case- law of European courts is that it is freedom of expression that should prevail over the protection of religious feelings, especially when religious symbolism has been used in the public interest. In one such judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has emphasized that: "freedom of expression also extends to ideas which offend, shock or disturb. In a pluralist democratic society those who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism". (case number 69317/14).  

We demand the removal of Article 196 from the Polish Penal Code. The aim of deleting Article 196 is to implement Articles 54 and 73 of the Polish Constitution - to ensure freedom of expression and of obtaining and disseminating information, to ensure freedom of artistic creativity and freedom to enjoy cultural output and to increase the scope of freedom of speech, with violations of the above to be enforced under the civil and not the criminal law.   If you want to live in a secular state that protects artistic freedom and freedom of expression, sign our petition now!

Fundacja Wolność od Religii [Freedom from Religion from Poland]

Ordo Blasfemia – Campaign by Nergal







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