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The prosecutor had sought a punishment of six months of imprisonment with additional unpaid penal labor for social purposes. None of the three defendants pleaded guilty. On Tuesday, the District Court in Płock acquitted the activists at the second trial.
- The activists' actions were provocative but their purpose was to draw attention to the homophobic and hurtful installation in the Church of St. Dominic in Płock. They intended to show that such actions are unacceptable- the judge argued. - It was not the intention of the activists to offend anyone's religious feelings or to defame the image of the Virgin Mary. Their actions were aimed at protecting the rights of a discriminated minority.
Moreover, the judge had found that the rainbow flag does not carry a demeaning message. - The teachings of the Catholic church do not exclude non-heteronormative people from the community of believers- the judge concluded.
Homophobic installation in the St Dominic's Church in Płock
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.
All three activists were accused of offending religious feelings. Yesterday’s trial has already been their second court appearance in this case.
- 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- said one of the defendants, Elżbieta Podleśna, during the first trial. - 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 on love, exposes these communities to hatred, with high representatives of the Episcopate referring to them as "the rainbow plague".
Six months in prison...
The prosecutor argued that the action was planned and well-thought-out and that the activists had crossed a boundary by defaming a painting which "is an integral part of Polish history and literature, and is of great importance to most Polish citizens”.
She requested that the activists be punished with six months of imprisonment with an obligation to perform unpaid, penal labor for social purposes (30 hours a month), and an order to pay the legal fees associated with the trial.
The attorney representing Kaja Godek- Poland’s best known anti-choice activist who has joined the case against the defendants as a subsidiary prosecutor- doubled down on the request. He pointed out that in this particular context the rainbow is a direct reference to a symbol of the LGBTQ movement. - The Church considers values represented by the movement contrary to its teachings. Our Holy Lady of Częstochowa is one of the greatest saints of the Polish Church, and the image itself is an object of special worship. What we have here is an example of abusive behavior that offends religious feelings- he argued.
How the court justified its judgment
Agnieszka Warchoł, the judge presiding over the case, acquitted all three defendants of their charges, ruling that the State Treasury will cover all legal costs of the proceedings.
According to the judge, "the defendants chose to engage in a non-verbal form of protest" using religious symbolism in a controversial way, but not such as to ridicule or demean values important to members of the Catholic church, but to draw attention to a significant issue of public concern. The judge continued: - Was this scandalous and controversial form of expression intended to bring something relevant to the public eye, to raise a socially important issue by exercising the right to freedom of expression? Or was it merely an illegal act intended to vulgarize the public sphere? It seems that the wide interest the case has drawn answers this question.
At the same time, the judge also pointed out that: - one may have doubts whether the activists’ behavior did not stray beyond the limits of good taste, ethical standards, or have even been disrespectful towards the image of an important religious figure. However, it is not the task of a criminal trial to evaluate the good tone of speech, possible violations of accepted standards, the culture of dialogue, or the decency of one’s behavior. One may have doubts whether the use of scandalizing forms is the most appropriate way to defend the rights of non-heteronormative groups and promote their proper image in society. Yet, criminal proceedings are supposed to sanction only such behavior that can be attributed to contempt, the desire to humiliate the object of the insult or mockery and humiliation of values important to members of the Catholic church. The evidence presented in this case did not prove that these conditions were fulfilled. What is more, the victims themselves indicate that it was not so much a different interpretation of the halo above the heads of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child that offended them. As their attorneys pointed out, it was not the rainbow itself, but the colors of the LGBTQ flag- she concluded.
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