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Nov 02 2012

Polish Court Clears Way for Blasphemy Conviction

If you think that support for blasphemy laws comes only from Muslims and that such prosecutions only take place in Muslim countries, you’re wrong. Christians also support such laws in many countries in the world, including Poland, where a rock musician is on trial for blasphemy for ripping up a copy of the Bible during a performance. And that country’s high court has now ruled that intention is irrelevant; if he hurt the feelings of Christians in the country, he committed blasphemy.

Poland’s Supreme Court opened the way on Monday for a blasphemy verdict against a rock musician who tore up a Bible on stage, a case that has pitted deep Catholic traditions against a new desire for free expression.

Adam Darski, front man with a heavy metal group named Behemoth, ripped up a copy of the Christian holy book during a concert in 2007, called it deceitful and described the Roman Catholic church as “a criminal sect”…

The Supreme Court was asked to rule on legal arguments thrown up by the musician’s trial in a lower court on charges of offending religious feelings.

It said a crime was committed even if the accused, who uses the stage name Nergal, did not act with the “direct intention” of offending those feelings, a court spokeswoman said.

That interpretation closed off an argument used by lawyers for Darski, who said he had not committed a crime because he did not intend to offend anyone.

The lower court will now decide if he is guilty. The maximum sentence is two years in jail, under Poland’s criminal code. However, it is extremely rare for anyone convicted of this kind of crime in Poland to serve prison time.

Poland is 93% Catholic and the Catholic Church has enormous influence in that country. We’ve seen similar prosecutions for blasphemy lately in Russia and Greece, so the problem of blasphemy laws is as much a reality in Christian countries as it is in Muslim countries. Here’s an ironic statement from Pope Benedict XVI:

In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching – in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction – an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life. In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. The “dictatorship of relativism”, in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.

Ah yes, society “rightly values personal liberty” — until someone uses that liberty to offend the delicate sensibilities of Catholics. And if someone is actually advocating that they have freedom of speech to offend others — by telling gay people they’re an abomination, for instance — but demand that those who offend them be punished by the state, is that not the very definition of a dictatorship of relativism?

20 comments

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  1. 1
    holytape

    What about constructive criticisms? Or what about if I preface every comment with either “Not to be offensive, but” or “Some of my best friends are Catholic”? Does it still count as blasphemy? What if I quote someone or some thing else (i.e. it’s not me that’s calling all Catholic preist pedophiles it’s the flying spaghetti monster.)? Does it still matter? These laws are too vague.

    Fear and Loathing

  2. 2
    Reginald Selkirk

    Believers ‘hurt my feelings’ every time they say “bless you” after I sneeze. I’m going to move to Poland and make it rich off lawsuits!

  3. 3
    Michael Heath

    Joseph Ratzinger:

    . . . the harmony of faith and reason . . .

    This dude’s seriously out of tune.

  4. 4
    eric

    And that country’s high court has now ruled that intention is irrelevant; if he hurt the feelings of Christians in the country, he committed blasphemy.

    But if they hurt the feelings of the nonbeliever in bringing their suit, then their intent (justice) shouldn’t matter either.

    And down the telepathy rabbit hole we go…

  5. 5
    Gregory in Seattle

    So the legal definition of “blasphemy” in Poland has nothing to do with insulting mythical beings, and everything to do with hurting the fee-fees of the fanatical mob.

  6. 6
    laurentweppe

    And the polish supreme court managed to do this not two month after the European Court of Justice ruled that anyone suffering from religious persecution had a right to seek asylum in the European Union.

    The worst part is, they know the European courts will clobber them for it.

    (Speaking of European courts, one piece of good news Poland was in fact clobbered 2 dayx ago by the Court of Human Rights for its harsh anti-abortion laws)

  7. 7
    Nick Gotts

    The worst part is, they know the European courts will clobber them for it. – laurentweppe

    True, but I think this won’t help the individual charged: the European Court of Human Rights* can only tell a state that it must change a law it determines is in violation of human rights, not reverse a national court judgement under current law.

    *Which for clarity, is not part of the EU, although all EU states must agree to abide by its judgments; some non-EU states do so as well.

  8. 8
    Raging Bee

    What about constructive criticisms?

    They’ll get to that, just be patient.

  9. 9
    Raging Bee

    That hateful old fraud is still going on about the “dictatorship of relativism?” Seriously? I guess I should be glad he didn’t mention his other favorite scapegoat “neopaganism” this time. Maybe I don’t get out much, but I’ve never heard any religious leader spout as much obscurantist word-salad as Pope Palpadict. Was Osama bin Laden this tangled up in meaningless abstractions?

  10. 10
    andrew

    Gah! Yet another article on the subject with a picture of the bassist and not the frontman. It’s Nergal on trial, that picture is Orion. Media FAIL.

    But to comment on the case directly, this sort of thing is reason #587 the Catholic hierarchy’s “Fortnight of Freedom” was such a crock. Religion takes a meeker guise on occasion where it is weak; public outrage and secular government have stripped it of much of its power in America. But when and where it has power? This is how it behaves, always and ever.

    BTW Behemoth are about my favorite band since their most recent album (which was some years ago, actually–Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia in the meantime, forcing a hiatus). For their take on Catholicism, see “Alas the Lord is Upon Me”. It’s a bit on the heavy side, but well worth a watch/listen.

  11. 11
    Nick Gotts

    Religion takes a meeker guise on occasion where it is weak; public outrage and secular government have stripped it of much of its power in America. – andrew

    Really? It looks pretty powerful in the US from over here in the UK.

  12. 12
    laurentweppe

    True, but I think this won’t help the individual charged: the European Court of Human Rights* can only tell a state that it must change a law it determines is in violation of human rights, not reverse a national court judgement under current law.

    The court of human rights cannot, but the European Court of Justice (did I ever mention how Baroque european institutions are?) does supersedes national supreme courts.
    So, the possibility that the Polish Court will get a letter telling them (albeit in a more diplomatic language):

    Dear Bigots: Fuck Off
    Signed: your superiors

    is not to be dismissed.

  13. 13
    Sastra

    If asked the question “should it be illegal to rip up a Bible on stage?” I suspect a lot of people in the U.S. would answer “yes.” If not a “lot,” then more than it should be.

    And I also suspect not all of these people would be deeply religious. I know some who would ban it just on the principle that we need to be nicer to each other. Don’t hurt people’s feelings — especially religious feelings.

    If a nation is like a home, and citizens are like children – then how do we raise them well? That is a very frightening way to approach law.

  14. 14
    Nick Gotts

    laurentweppe@12,

    Would this case fall under the ECJ’s jurisdiction?

  15. 15
    laurentweppe

    Would this case fall under the ECJ’s jurisdiction?

    Short answer: Yes
    .
    Long, detailed answer: The treaty of Lisbon removed restrictions to the court’s jurisdiction which existed prior, made the preliminary rulings binding, and gave the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union -which includes freedom of religion and freedom of expression are part of the charter- the same legal value as the other fundamental treaties.

  16. 16
    sinned34

    Looks like it’s time to buy another couple of Behemoth t-shirts.

  17. 17
    pacal

    Once again we have the crap about it is “my” right to offend “x”, by saying the most demeaning horrible things about “x”. Of course if “x” complains about it “I” will shriek about the tyranny of “political correctness”. However if anyone offends me I will use the full measure of the law to supress / punish them.

    This is so typical that it is a cliche.

  18. 18
    Gregory in Seattle

    @pacal #17

    This, exactly

  19. 19
    newfie

    It’s his book, he can do what he likes with it. His lawyer should call the offended deity to take the stand, if it feels it has been wronged. When it doesn’t show up.. “There’s your evidence, Your Honor.. the sky fairy doesn’t give a shit what my client does with his property. Now how about you dismiss this farce and free up the courts to prosecute more child raping preists? Because that’s an offence to humanity.”

  20. 20
    heatherfirth

    As a fan of Behemoth, I’m keenly interested in this.
    Adam Darski has been battling this for five years now. It is patently ridiculous but a good reminder that blasphemy laws aren’t just the province of Middle Eastern countries.

    There is video of the incident and surprise, it’s not terribly shocking. http://youtu.be/y11y0WK-qqs
    Frankly, Mayhem shows were more dangerous, with the sheep heads being thrown into the crowd and all.

    The whole thing has been the pet project of the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects, a group much like our super fun Christian groups. The blasphemy complaint came after the group’s inability to get Behemoth, Marilyn Manson and other bands/artists who “promote Satanism” to be banned from performing in Poland.

    Personally, I like the fact that Darski keeps pissing them off by beating leukemia and being the winning coach of “The Voice Poland”. Good on him for continuing to fight!

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