Follow the big issues that shape Polish politics and society by signing up to our weekly newsletter "News from Poland: Democracy at Stake". It allows you to stay up to speed on developments concerning the ongoing assault on democratic institutions, rule of law, and human rights in Poland.
The case concerns the events of the night of 26-27 April 2019. Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar pasted stickers with the Virgin Mary in a rainbow halo around St Dominic's Church in Płock. This was in response to the controversial reproduction of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the parish priest included "LGBT", "Gender", and "Homosexual Perversions" together with theft, hatred, greed, avarice and other major sins that are supposedly plaguing our societies.
- The direct impulse for our action was the installation of "reproduction" of the Holy Sepulchre in the Church of St. Dominic in Płock, which contained homophobic and harmful content," began Elżbieta Podleśna, one of the defendants. - The juxtaposition of words that denote people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity with crimes and ignominies may - in my deep conviction - evoke an incentive to stigmatize the LGBT communities and expose them to even more harassment. The Church, which claims to be a fellowship based om love, exposes these communities to hatred, with high representatives of the Episcopate referring to them as "the rainbow plague".
Our actions were not offensive
- The law does not protect minorities in Poland," Podleśna continued. - People are being spat on on the streets, harassed, LGBT teens people are at a high risk of committing suicide. Through our actions, we wanted to show that someone is defending them," Podleśna continued.
I am standing before the court of a secular state. I do not find my action offensive. I was confirmed in this belief by many people from who are very active in the Catholic community and who denied any offensive character of my action.
From time to time people gathered in front of the court chanted, "You won't lock us all up," "You will never, ever walk alone," "Poland is secular, not Catholic". At one point the chanting was so loud that it was difficult to hold a hearing.
Symbol of beauty of diversity
Why did activists pick the Virgin Mother of Częstochowa, perhaps the most sacrosanct religious symbol in Poland? - We used this image as a universal symbol of love between mother and child. We thought that everyone would understand it as a symbol of care and love, which is not concerned with gender or sexual orientation. To the mother we added the symbol of the rainbow, which is an image of the beauty of diversity. That is why I did not assume that I could offend anyone's religious feelings - Podleśna explained.
The activist also referred to the Church hierarchs who covered up paedophilia in their ranks: - They were indirectly responsible for the trauma of children. On one side, we have the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo, a symbol of all-accepting love and of protecting the weak, on the other - hypocrisy and crime on the side of Polish institutional Church.
None of the three accused activists pleaded guilty.
Homoerotic acts are as sinful as murder
- The rainbow flag gained its meaning in the streets and for people of sound mind, especially for believers, it symbolizes abominations, disorders, and perversions," said Father Tadeusz Łebkowski, author of the controversial Holy Sepulchre in the St. Dominic Church, whose complaint led to the trial.
Kaja Godek, Poland’s best known anti-choice activist, joined the case against the defendants as a subsidiary prosecutor. Following the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling that fulfilled her long-lasting crusade against abortion, Godek has recently shifted her attention towards the LGBT communities. In November, she submitted a list of signatures collected under the citizens' bill banning the organisation of Pride Parades, known also as "Equality Marches", which are demonstrations in the name of tolerance and social equality for LGBT+ communities.
According to Godek, the sticker represented “not the Virgin Mary in a rainbow halo, but the Mother of God in a halo of six colours that are symbols of the LGBT movement”.
-Such a juxtaposition offends me as a human being, as a Catholic. LGBT ideology puts degenerate sexual behaviour on a pedestal. The teaching is clear, homosexuality is a sin crying out to heaven for vengeance. A sin that belongs to the same category as, for example, intentional murder," Godek argued, claiming that she supports initiatives which are authentically aimed at helping LGBT teens in need, namely conversion therapies.
Polish blasphemy law among the vaguest in Europe
Over the last twenty years, many European countries have repealed the anti-blasphemy provisions of their constitutional, criminal and administrative law. Between 2014 and 2019, blasphemy-related crimes were abolished in Denmark, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway. In Ireland, blasphemy against Catholicism was forbidden under the Irish Constitution until a public referendum that took place in 2017 in which the citizens voted by a decisive 65% to 35% margin in favour of removing the provisions.
Polish law does not contain any specific rules on blasphemy, however article 196 of the criminal code introduces a category called “offending religious feelings”, which is punishable by up to 2 years of prison sentence. With no clear definition of what constitutes an act that is offensive towards religious feelings, the provision has been widely criticised by international human right and pro-democracy bodies, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Article 19, and Freedom House as posing a serious threat to the freedom of speech. In perhaps the most absurd instance of invoking the article 196, in 2015 the mayor of Słupsk Robert Biedroń was accused of offending religious feelings after he ordered the removal of a portrait of John Paul II from his office.
While the prosecutor’s office refused to take on the case back then, the political capture of the judicial system undertaken by the current government has led to an increase in highly publicized convictions. In October 2018, Jerzy Urban, the former spokesperson of the communist government and the editor-in-chief of the provocative “Nie” [Eng. “No”] weekly was found guilty and ordered to pay 120 thousand PLN (30 thousand euros) for publishing a caricature of Jesus on the traffic general prohibition sign. The sentence was reversed by an appellate court in November 2020.
The current case can be considered a litmus test for evaluating the extent to which the Law and Justice control over the judiciary. The accused activists took their actions in an effort to send a clear political message opposing the government's propaganda campaign undertaken for the purpose of mobilizing its conservative base before the 2019 European Parliament electoral campaign. Since then, the propagandist assaults on the LGBT communities by the ruling camp have increased significantly, reaching its peak during the 2020 presidential campaign.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.
They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.
We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.
The access to information should be equal for all.
Wybierz prenumeratę, by czytać to, co Cię ciekawi
Wyborcza.pl to zawsze sprawdzone informacje, szczere wywiady, zaskakujące reportaże i porady ekspertów w sprawach, którymi żyjemy na co dzień. Do tego magazyny o książkach, historii i teksty z mediów europejskich. Zrezygnować możesz w każdej chwili.