KAI: What does the project you want to put to the Marshal’s walking stick presuppose?
Marcin Warchoł: The current provisions of the Criminal Code on insulting religious feelings and disrupting services are insufficient. Unfortunately, they allow leniency towards the perpetrators of such behavior. For a person who is currently disrupting the service, it must be proven that he has done so “maliciously”. This results in impunity for such a crime, as the aggressors apologize for only showing their beliefs hostile to the church. And that they did that during Holy Mass? Well, they had the right to do that… We want to remove the phrase “malicious” so that the person disrupting the service doesn’t have to prove that they did it maliciously. If such a person entered the church and mixed with the mass, no matter how he later explained himself, he can be charged because the right to religious freedom is crucial at this point. This is where the right to demonstrate ends, where the harm for the other begins. You cannot demonstrate in church. Churches have always been safe havens, even during the Scots or Occupation. You must respect that others want to pray in peace.
What other changes does the project foresee?
– Now to bring to justice anyone who has committed an insult to a church or a sacrilegious attack on holy sites, we must find heroic believers who will testify and claim that they have been offended. It is necessary to show that the religious feelings of believers have been offended. Conversely, believers are often reluctant to testify against aggressive people who attack churches or disrupt services. We want to introduce a provision so that this objective fact – insult, mockery of the church or insult to the object of religious worship – would be sufficient to prosecute such persons.
Another change: today people who refer to the Holy Scriptures or defend the right to life by acting in accordance with Christian values are exposed to serious problems. This was the case, for example, in high-profile cases involving an IKEA employee or a printer from Łódź. We want to introduce such a solution that no one can be punished for expressing beliefs or opinions related to the religion they profess. This is the implementation of the constitutional principle according to which religious freedom includes its public or private manifestation. Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms expressly states that everyone has the right to profess his religion publicly or privately, to proclaim it and to pray together with others.
Final change – religious rituals or dogmas are now beyond any legal protection. Mocking, mocking, insulting and defiling the most sacred dogmas for believers today goes unpunished. Here too we want to introduce protection, because every natural person in Poland enjoys more protection than the faith, for which millions of people have died. Religious freedom is a special civil right. It grows out of human dignity. As the only civil right, it goes beyond the temporal “here and now”, it has a vertical, not a horizontal dimension. Why? For for believers it leads to salvation. Let’s give people the right to pray, let’s create peaceful conditions so that they can practice their faith and not be exposed to aggressors who mock them.
However, already in the spring, the idea of Art. 196 pc. What has become of him?
– Unfortunately he – I regret that – did not find understanding with our larger coalition partner, Law and Justice. Mr Marek Ast [przewodniczący sejmowej komisji sprawiedliwości i praw człowieka – KAI] stated that the current law is sufficient.
KAI: Is that why Solidarna Polska is submitting this project as a citizens’ project, not as a parliamentary project or as a Ministry of Justice project?
– Yes. We registered the Legislative Initiative Commission on the basis of twice as many signatures on the bill than the required thousand. We have already collected more than 30 thousand. signatures. This proves the great interest of citizens in our project. In just two days we collected 10,000 PLN in Jasna Góra. Citizens report, call and ask where they can sign. This can be done at www.wobroniechrzescijan.pl. We gather everywhere: at outdoor events, picnics, festivals. Various social movements, athletes, presidents of sports clubs, parents, firefighters, rural housewives groups, village leaders, mayors are involved. Priests and Christian organizations are involved. Incredible interest. This proves that the project is simply necessary.
Are we facing persecution or discrimination against believers in Poland, including Catholics?
– In recent years we have witnessed a huge increase in aggressive behavior towards believers. Christophobia is gaining momentum in Poland. More and more crimes are being committed against Christians.
What do police or ministerial statistics say about it?
– 163 such proceedings were conducted in the years 2009-2015, while 2,435 proceedings have already been initiated since 2016 for insulting religious feelings. This is an increase of 1400%! Unfortunately only 5 percent. such cases are reported. The current law allows aggressors to go unpunished, that’s why people don’t even report such cases because if they reported once and were received with misunderstanding, they don’t repeat the reports later. People are also afraid to file a complaint. Unfortunately, in order to protect sacred objects and places for believers, such as churches or crosses, it is necessary to prove that the attack was related to offending other people’s religious feelings. We need to remove this block. Article 196 of the Criminal Code appeared in Polish law in 1949, during the biggest struggle with the Church in Poland. It was invented by the Stalinists. At the time, there was tacit approval for attacks on churches. The Stalinist line of this provision shows that it in no way protects religious freedom, the dignity of believers.
The project refers to Christians, but it would apply to both believers and non-believers, protecting the right to profess one’s opinion, beliefs and freedom of conscience. Do you want to convince other than believers to sign?
– Absolutely yes. The project is about freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, whatever happens. It’s not just about the Catholic Church. It is also about other churches, incl. Protestant. After all, the biggest attack is now on freedom of expression in Western Europe and it concerns Protestant clerics. Pastors in Sweden and the UK have been convicted for publicly reminding that marriage is a union between a woman and a man. A Lutheran former interior minister of Finland, Päivi Räsänen, was accused of invoking the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. There are many examples. If we don’t curb this Christophobia and persecution, priests will soon be unable to preach for fear of criminal prosecution. The above examples can be multiplied by several and apply not only to Christians, but also to Judaism, for example. When such a brutal battle with faith takes place, followers of other religions will also be victims.
Since the project essentially concerns the majority of Polish society, surely there has been consultation about it?
– Yes, we approached the Polish episcopate at the draft writing stage and received a positive opinion. When it comes to other churches and religious associations, we are open and ready for talks, consultation and persuasion for this project. We count on your interest and support.
The project is based on already existing similar solutions in other countries? Is there evidence of the effective effect of such a law?
– Yes, the solution to ridicule and pollute the church comes from the German system.
To the best of your knowledge, are these solutions effective there?
– I don’t know the situation in Germany very well. I live in Poland and I know the Polish practice. I see gigantic aggression here. I don’t know how the German legal system deals with this kind of behaviour, but when it comes to the law, it is certainly more accurate than the law in Poland. German law was not written by the Stalinists, and unfortunately our law was. That’s why it was written in such a way that it was leaked and that aggression and discrimination was possible. German law has a much longer lineage and was not designed to fight against anyone, it is objective. What we demand is that the descriptions of these crimes be made more objective, as they are highly discretionary today and guarantee impunity. We close these gates to impunity without increasing the penalties. It is not about harsh punishments, but about a tight system and real protection of believers.
The bad guys could accuse you of attempting to attract attention in a situation where snap parliamentary elections may be approaching and your party has 1-2% support in the polls.
– This is absolutely an illegitimate allegation. People who feared attacks on churches came to our parliamentary offices, including me in Podkarpacie, and asked: do something about it. This is the answer to the call of the residents. We cannot remain deaf to this. Politics has nothing to do with it. This is not a political project. If we wanted to draw attention to ourselves, we would simply propose amendments to the Criminal Code, push for a parliamentary or government bill. We go to the citizens. We were visited by activists from Christian organizations, concerned priests. The public prosecutor’s office is powerless because the law allows impunity. We have gathered the opinions of experts who indicate that the problem should be solved. A conference on this topic was organized at the Academy of Social and Media Culture in Toruń. This project is preceded by an in-depth theoretical analysis. We have been preparing for it from the moment of this incredible attack that happened two years ago. We are leaving with this project, this is the best time due to the fact that the tenure will end in the blink of an eye, while this social analytic and research work has matured to come out with such an initiative.
If you collect 100,000 signatures, the Sejm will have to deal with this project. Whose support in parliament are you counting on?
– We count on all political forces. I trust that everyone is in favor of defending this fundamental value of religious freedom. We hope the opposition will support him. After all, one of the parties has “civil” in its name, so we hope that religious freedom as a civil right, deriving from human dignity, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, will finally be protected. We are of course mainly relying on our coalition partner Law and Justice, but also on other political forces.
Ziobro presented the principles of criminal justice reformAlso read:
Changes in the Criminal Code? “Tolerance only enrages”