The Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious organisation in Poland and maintains considerable influence in social and political life. “Blasphemy” law is in practice to punish those who critically discuss religion, in particular Christianity.
The Polish Constitution guarantees freedom of expression but in recent years several individuals, in particular artists and musicians, have found themselves subject to charges of blasphemy brought under Article 196 of the penal code, which allows Catholic clergy and activists to exert their influence in the public sphere:
“Anyone found guilty of offending religious feelings through public defamation of an object or place of worship is liable to a fine, restriction of liberty or a maximum two-year prison sentence”
Due to the focus on religious objects or places of worship, the use of religious symbols in different forms of art has led to many Article 196 cases (see below).
Although Article 196 does not protect any particular religion, in practice it is only used to investigate alleged insults against Christian religious symbols.
Apostasy in Poland is an arduous process that requires a handwritten letter of resignation from the Catholic Church, provision of baptism certificate with an appropriate annotation, which is the sole document that can confirm official defection from the Church, the presence of two witnesses and at least two visits to the rector of the relevant parish.
In April 2014 The Krasnals, an anti-establishment art collective in based in Poznan, were accused of blasphemy for depicting the late Pope John Paul II being breastfed by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, head of the right wing Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja. The Krasnals are reportedly being sued by Ryszard Nowak, who famously filed a case against Polish rock singer Adam Darski after he ripped up a copy of the Bible during a concert in 2007. In 2013, Darski was found guilty of offending religious feelings by “intentionally insulting the Holy Bible” but, on appeal, the charges were overturned.
Pop singer Dorota Rabczewska also found herself a target of blasphemy accusations after stating that she believed in dinosaurs more than the Bible because “it is hard to believe in something written by people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes” during an interview in 2009. She was found guilty of ‘offending the religious feelings of Christians and Jews’ in 2012 and fined 5,000 zlotys (£1,026).