Poland: Rainbow Mary case underscores the need to repeal blasphemy laws

Poland: Rainbow Mary case underscores the need to repeal blasphemy laws - Civic Space

Polish activists Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar, Anna Prus, Elżbieta Podleśna / Credit: Aleksandra Perzyńska

ARTICLE 19 submitted an amicus brief to the Polish Supreme Court in a criminal case against three activists accused of ‘offending religious feelings’ in response to an activist action. The activists displayed posters showing Holy Mary adorned with a rainbow halo to protest increasing smear campaigns against and discrimination of LGBTIQ people. We believe that the charge clearly violates activists’ right to freedom of expression. Ultimately, the provision criminalising blasphemy should be repealed from the Polish Criminal Code.  


Amicus curiae in English

Amicus curia po polsku

The hearing will take place on 28 March.  

The prosecution of activists Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar under Article 196 of the Polish Criminal Code arises from an incident that took place in the Saint Dominic Church in Płock on 27 April 2019. The activists plastered the area around the church with images of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa adorned with a rainbow halo, in protest of an earlier homophobic display in the church, which depicted the words ‘gender’, ‘homo-deviation’ and ‘LGBT’ amidst the list of the deadly sins. The image was used in the context of the wider actions of local activists in support of the LGBTIQ community. The activists explained that their symbolic protest action was conducted in defiance of ‘indoctrination towards hate and segregation’. 

Elżbieta, Anna, and Joanna were acquitted by the court of the first instance in March 2021. In January 2022, during the appeal process, the court of the second instance upheld this judgment. However, the legal battle did not end there. The Life and Family Foundation, along with ultra-conservative Polish Catholic legal organisation Ordo Iuris, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, attempting to overturn the activists’ acquittal verdict. 

International and regional human rights bodies have repeatedly confirmed that protecting religious feelings or religious objects is not a legitimate basis for restricting freedom of expression and have called for the abolition of blasphemy laws. 

ARTICLE 19 examines that the interference with the activists’ right to freedom of expression did not pursue a legitimate aim and did not meet the requirement of legality. Moreover, the criminal prosecution in this case was neither necessary nor a proportional measure. 

ARTICLE 19 submits that Article 196 of the Polish Criminal Code, under which the activists were charged, does not comply with international and European human rights standards. Hence, the provision in question should be abolished, and charges against the defendants should be quashed in their entirety. They should be provided with due redress and compensation. 

Amicus curiae in English

Amicus curia po polsku