Blasphemy law Poland may be toughened


Central Europe


Protestor with an image of the Virgin Mary with rainbow colours. She protests against the trial of LGBT activists accused of blasphemy for adding a rainbow to an image of the Mother of Jesus. Photo AFP, Janek Skarzynski

Whoever insults a church or ridicules faith can be jailed in Poland if it is up to the Polish Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro. To this end, he submitted a proposal to Parliament last week.

More than 400,000 people signed a petition in favour of the measure, Notes from Poland reports. If the Minister gets what he wants, insulting a church could lead to up to two years of imprisonment. “To fully implement freedom of religion, it is necessary to amend the criminal code, which today insufficiently guarantees the protection of believers”, Ziobro said.

The Justice Minister wants to broaden the current blasphemy rule by abolishing the requirement of proof that somebody has been offended, among other things. Anyone who publicly offends a church or other religious organisations or their beliefs and rituals could be detained for two years. Furthermore, the proposal reads that people are protected from prosecution for speech when expressing religious beliefs. “We do not want Poland to be like other countries where pastors are taken to court for recalling the fundamental rule that a family is the union of a man and a woman”, deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol said.

Citizens’ initiative

Currently, it is forbidden in Poland to “offend the religious feelings of other people by publicly insulting an object of religious worship or a place intended for the public performance of religious rites.” However, according to United Poland, the political party Ziobro belongs to, the current law does not go far enough. Earlier this year, it already pleaded for longer terms of jail and making implementing the law easier, as CNE.news reported earlier. However, the ruling party did not support the bill at the time.

Instead, United Poland then resorted to a so-called citizens’ legislative initiative. If a proposal receives more than 100,000 signatures from the population, the Polish Parliament is bound to look at it. The petition of United Poland, “In defence of the freedom of Christians”, received about 380,000 signatures between early July and when it was submitted to Parliament, Notes from Poland writes.

Prohibition of criticism

Last week, the spokesman of the ruling PiS party, Radoslaw Fogiel, said to the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that the proposal is “in line with the values we share” and that the party appreciates the involvement of its colleagues from United Poland. He added that the Parliament would deal with the bill in the same way as it always does with citizens’ initiatives.

However, the proposal is not undisputed. The opposition party, The Left (Lewica), warns that it would “prohibit criticism of the church and its representatives.”

Freedom of expression

The Polish blasphemy law has recently been used in a few cases. Currently, three Polish LGBT activists are facing an appeal trial because they added rainbows to the halos of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Two courts acquitted them, but the prosecutors continued to appeal the case.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Polish pop star Doda was not guilty of blasphemy. She received a fine for saying she was more convinced by dinosaurs than by the Bible and added that drunk and drug-using people wrote the Bible. However, the European Court ruled that Doda had been violated in her right to freedom of expression, as CNE.news reported earlier.



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