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The Cross in the Polish Parliament defended

Published: 17.12.2013

On 9 December 2013 Court of Appeals in Warsaw upheld a District Court judgment from 14th January refusing far-left politicians’ claims. They blamed the cross hanging in the plenary hall of Sejm (lower chamber of the Polish Parliament) to be an infringement of the freedom of religion and having an offensive character for them as for atheists. According to the Court, presence of religious symbols in public square e.g. in Sejm does not infringe freedom of religion neither may be considered as a personal offence.

On 14th of January 2013 District Court for Warsaw ruled that there was no infringement of personal interest of 7 petitioners who had claimed so. According to the plaintiffs their personal rights as MPs and atheists were infringed by the very presence of the cross in the main hall of the Parliament. They claimed, it has been a violationof their freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. According to the petitioners, the presence of a cross influences decisions made by Polish MPs. An attorney representing petitioners, said that Parliament favors religion by displaying cross which was not “universal sign nor sign of the Polish nation”. It was claimed that cross was placed in 1997 by a right wing MPs without any legal authorisation.

The Public Attorney (radca prokuratorii) representing Sejm said that religious symbol didn’t infringe personal interest and can’t be “the source of harm” (contrary to e.g. swastika).

Court dismissed lawsuit on the grounds that there wasn’t any infringement of petitioners personal interest. Whereas atheists in this given case might suffer certain personal, “discomfort”, according to court, in order to infringe personal interests, objective criteria, such as social assessment of specific conduct, are more important. Court emphasized, that vast majority of the Polish society did not consider the presence of the cross as a controversial issue. It even claimed, the long-lasting present of the cross in Parliament has brought it about a custom, which must not be disregarded by the Court.

The judgment has been subsequently challenged in the Court of Appeals in Warsaw.

On 9th December 2013 The Court of Appeals in Warsaw has upheld judgment as issued in January by the District Court refusing far-left politicians claims, as to offensive character of the cross in the plenary hall of Sejm. The Court emphasized, that religious freedom has not only a private, but also a public dimension. Therefore the display and appearance of the cross in public falls within the scope of permissible manifestation of a religion. Consequently, not every single subjective discomfort should be considered either as a violation of freedom of conscience and religion or personally offensive. It is because judgment could not be guided only by subjective personal feelings, but social context (customs, traditions, culture and historical experience of the specific community) must also be taken into account .

The petitioners announced, they will continue their efforts to remove the cross with a complaint to Strasbourg. 

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