ADF International

Polish Constitutional Tribunal rules in favour of freedom of conscience

Summary

  • Court states business providers have right to work in line with their convictions
  • Decision sets example for other European countries on protection of conscience rights of service providers

WARSAW (26 June 2019) – Today, the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland confirmed that service providers and business owners have the right to run their businesses in line with their convictions without risking criminal charges. The decision of the Tribunal invalidated a previous decision of the Polish Supreme Court, which had upheld criminal charges against a printer in Łódź who had refused to print material promoting an event with which he disagreed. He was unable to endorse something not in line with his conscience and was convicted on the grounds that religious beliefs did not constitute a “justified cause” for not providing his service.

“No one should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith. Today, the Constitutional Tribunal upheld the conscience rights of business owners. The right to freedom of conscience, which is protected by every major human rights treaty, must include and protect the right to act accordingly. Today’s decision confirms this fundamental right by affirming that individuals have the right to live their lives at home and at work according to their convictions,” said Alice Neffe, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Brussels, who authored ADF International’s intervention in this case.

No one should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith. Today’s decision confirms this fundamental right by affirming that individuals have the right to live their lives at home and at work according to their convictions.

The Tribunal stated, inter alia, that the term “without justified cause” cannot be clearly defined, therefore, “penalizing the refusal to provide services without a justified cause constitutes an interference with the freedoms of the service provider, in particular, contractual freedom, the right to express one’s own opinions or to act in accordance with one’s own conscience.” The reporting Judge added that fighting against discrimination cannot be done at the price of these freedoms. Consequently, the Tribunal decided that Article 138 of the Code of Offences is unconstitutional.

Criminal conviction for living in line with conscience

In 2015, a Polish printer declined to use his business to endorse something which was not in line with his conscience and his faith. An LGBT organization had asked him to print a roll-up banner for an event and he declined the request. This resulted in court proceedings culminating at the Supreme Court which upheld his conviction. The judges found the printer guilty of illegally refusing services without a “justified cause” and imposed a fine. The court determined that religious convictions did not constitute a “justified cause.”

As a result, 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”, as it “forces citizens to provide services opposed to their own convictions. The state should not pressure people into such behaviour.” ADF International filed an intervention with the Constitutional Tribunal on 20 June 2018.

Conscience rights under threat across Europe

Recently, conscience rights have regularly been challenged in various countries in Europe.

“Across Europe, citizens are facing an impossible choice: Either violate their conscience or face punishment by the state. This ranges from medical professionals to bakeries, who are forced to choose between their convictions and their profession. They risk criminal charges, fines, loss of reputation, and social discrimination. Nobody should face this simply for living in accordance with what they believe,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.