Andrzej Dominiczak



On 10 Oct. a regional court in Warsaw sentenced Jerzy Urban, the owner and editor-in-chief of the anticlerical weekly “No”, to pay a huge fine of 120 thousand zlotys plus 28 thousand of court costs (together approx. 40 thousand US dollars) for publishing (in 2012) “a caricatural image of Jesus with unintelligent (low IQ) facial expression”. This is the largest fine ever levied in post-communist Poland for blasphemy - under art. 196 of the Penal code on offending religious feelings. The article provides that “anyone who offends the religious feelings of others by publicly blaspheming n object of religious worship  or a place dedicated to the public celebration of religious rites is liable to a fine, the restriction of liberty or imprisonment for up to two years.

The sentence is outrageous for many reasons, both general and specific, most importantly perhaps, because the allegedly offensive image is rather warm and sympathetic – not insulting at all. Here it is, judge for yourselves:


In an interview, Mr. Urban explained that although he is an enemy of the Church and religion it was not his intention to harm any feelings; as the editor of his weekly magazine he just accepted the nice image for publication.

It is worth explaining to our foreign readers that since 2014 no-one has been convicted of blasphemy in Poland. It seemed that the situation in the field of freedom of speech and expression has improved considerably in recent years. However, apart from the fact that the judge in this case is a right wing catholic eager beaver, the sentence should be seen as yet another symptom of a near fascist, clerical revolution that is taking part in Poland. Moreover, in the nineteen eighties, Mr. Urban was both famous and infamous government spokesman and he is still seen as the main enemy by many obsessed ant-communists who continue their witch hunt for real or imaginary communists nearly 30 years after the collapse the Polish People's Republic. It is also worth mentioning that at the same time, just during one week, three millions of Poles have gone to cinemas al over the country (with some exceptions) to watch the anticlerical movie titled “The Clergy” – that shows priests as pedophiles and greedy boozers, and there have been only a few cases of local authorities imposing bans on that film in their towns. This is the first explicitly anticlerical feature-film in Poland, so if we take into account both events: the huge fine on the one hand and the crowds watching “The Clergy&rdquo on the other; we shall see that the general picture is not clear. In my opinion, we face fast secularization and even atheization at social and psychological levels, and further clericalization at political level. Let us hope that the clerical near-fascists who are currently in power in Poland will not manage to stop progress and that Mr. Urban will have more luck with a judge in an appellate court, as the verdict is not final and he is going to appeal.

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English and American dictionaries define blasphemy as “contemptuous or profane speech or action concerning God or a sacred entity” (American Heritage), or “something that you say or do that shows you do not respect God or a religion” (Cambridge Dictionary).

At the first sight, both definitions seem self-evident but it is an illusion. The truth is that they do not specify or even give any idea of what expressions or actions can be considered blasphemous, while – contrary to popular belief – it can be almost anything you say or anything you do or even omit to do. In some Islamic states it can be too short beard, listening to music or eating lettuce, in Poland, a small figurine of Christ[1] or almost anything you say or draw about religion if you do it jestingly. “Laughter kills fear, and without fear, there can be no faith” – as Umberto Eco put it in his famous novel The Name of the Rose. No wonder, the largest number of fierce accusations of blasphemy and the largest number of death threats we have ever received, was in response to our evidently humorous campaign to clone the Polish pope, “so that every good Pole would have his or her own pope at home”.  

Blasphemy is not something that we do! It is what the most devout and authoritarian believers do by maliciously interpreting our words or actions in an effort to impose obedience and respect to their so-called teachings and objects of cult. They demand obedience from all, including those who reject their beliefs and policies. It’s an extreme form of violation of our freedom of thought and expression, in itself a sufficient reason not to respect the people and the system that encourages or incites such thought policing.

I do not want to imply, however, that we should never have any doubts, whether we should say or do something that would most likely harm their feelings. I sometimes do, if I find them helpless victims of their own beliefs and fears. It was one of the reasons that a few years ago, in my draft of a new law on insulting religious feelings, I decided not to abolish it entirely and maintain some lenient protection of their “feelings”, but only in churches and other places of worship. The other reason was political, as this pragmatic compromise seemed to make the whole effort realistic. I was right. The parliament did not reject it but sent it to the legislative committee. Unfortunately, it was too late. The upcoming elections turned the Polish political system upside down and nothing can be done under current regime. There are, however, good reasons to believe that when (if?) we abolish this near-fascist government, the blasphemy law in Poland will be finally abolished. Recently, even some of the clergy have realized that being a thought police is not what they really want to be.


[1] [1] A few years ago, the director of Zacheta Art. Gallery in Warsaw was charged with blasphemy because  one of the objects at the new exhibition, a “sweet” and small figurine of Christ with a skein of wool on his hands, was considered infantile and for that reason insulting to the son of g  

Towarzystwo Humanistyczne
Humanist Assciation