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Poland: Freedom of conscience ruling

August 2019

Alice Neffe
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Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has confirmed that businesses have the right to offer services in line with their religious or other convictions.

In a landmark decision, which exonerated a Polish printer who did not want to print material that promoted an event with which his religious beliefs were at odds, the Tribunal has set an example for other European countries over the protection of conscience rights of service providers.

The Tribunal’s decision overturned an earlier ruling by the Polish Supreme Court, which had upheld criminal charges against a printer in Łódź, who had been asked to print something in 2015 promoting an LGBT event.

He declined, stating he was unable to endorse something not in line with his conscience, but was convicted on the grounds that religious beliefs did not constitute a justified cause for not providing his service.

Alice Neffe, legal counsel for ADF International in Brussels, who authored ADF International’s intervention in this case, commented, ‘No one should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith.

The right to freedom of conscience, which is protected by every major human rights treaty, must include and protect the right to act accordingly. [The Tribunal’s] decision confirms this fundamental right’.

As a result of his original conviction, a constitutional revision of the law was initiated by the Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, who previously denounced the use of the law as an assault on freedom.

ADF International filed an intervention with the Constitutional Tribunal on 20 June 2018. According to ADF, conscience rights have regularly been challenged in various countries in Europe.

Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International, said, ‘Across Europe, citizens are facing an impossible choice: either violate their conscience or face punishment by the state.

‘They risk criminal charges, fines, loss of reputation, and social discrimination. Nobody should face this simply for living in accordance with what they believe’.