The appeals court in Łódź has dismissed proceedings in the case of a print-shop worker who refused to produce material for an LGBT client.
At the request of Zbigniew Ziobro, the prosecutor general and justice minister in Poland’s conservative government, the court set aside all previous verdicts punishing the print-shop worker. It also refused to refer questions about the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The dismissal is the fifth ruling by various courts in a legal battle dating back to 2015. It comes amid heated debate about LGBT rights in Poland and about the judicial reforms introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Bartosz Lewandowski from the conservative NGO Ordo Iuris, which has led efforts to introduce a total abortion ban in Poland and to resist what it calls “LGBT propaganda”, said that the verdict was “a triumph of the freedoms and civil rights guaranteed by the Polish constitution”.
However, the Campaign against Homophobia (KPH), an LGBT rights organisation, declared that it will appeal to Poland’s Supreme Court against the ruling. In a statement, it said that there was a “crisis of the rule of law in Poland, and this case only proves it”. We will not “give our consent to the sacrificing of human rights and freedoms to satisfy the agenda of the ruling party”, KPH declared.
The case originated in 2015, when an employee of a print shop in Łódź refused to print posters ordered by LGBT Business Forum, an NGO. He justified the decision by explaining that he did not want to “contribute to the promotion of the LGBT movement”.
The following year, a district court found the employee guilty of violating Polish law, which prohibits “refusing services without just cause”, and fined him 200 zloty. The verdict was then upheld by the Łódź regional court.
The rulings were, however, strongly criticised by the Justice Minister Ziobro. He pointed out that the constitution protects “freedom of conscience”, which, he argued, includes “the right not to support homosexual content”. The courts had set a “dangerous precedent” by “imposing coercion” on the employee for “ideological reasons”.
Ziobro appealed to the Supreme Court to dismiss the case, but it refused to do so.
It was illegal for printshop worker to refuse order from #LGBT client, rules Supreme Court, rejecting appeal by justice minister, who argued worker's 'freedom of conscience' should be respected. 'It's a historic victory for equality,' says @KPH_official https://t.co/l73AwbzvEK
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 14, 2018
Following Ziobro’s critical comments, Poland’s commissioner for human rights, Adam Bodnar, wrote him a letter expressing “great concern” at his statement and reminding him that Poland’s constitution forbids discrimination in the economic sphere.
Ziobro nevertheless referred the case to the Constitutional Tribunal, a majority of whose judges, including the chief justice, were nominated by the ruling party, often in controversial circumstances.
The Tribunal ruled in June that the law which served as the basis for punishing the print-shop worker was unconstitutional. This enabled Ziobro to request that the appeals court dismiss the case, which it has now done with the new ruling.
A law used to punish a printshop worker for refusing to produce LGBT material is unconstitutional, rules the constitutional court. The case was brought by the justice minister. He argued there must be a right to refuse service based on 'faith & conscience' https://t.co/LAHspDXJ72
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 26, 2019
Earlier this year, Ziobro also criticised Swedish furniture giant Ikea after it fired an employee from one of its stores in Poland because he opposed a company LGBT rights campaign by posting biblical quotes that suggested homosexuals deserve death.
The decision was “absolutely scandalous” and “unacceptable”, said Ziobro. His deputy minister, Marcin Romanowski, condemned Ikea for “promoting LGBT ideology”, which is an “aggressive revolution that destroys our tradition”.
The ruling party has this year made opposition to “LGBT ideology” a centrepiece of its campaigns for the European and parliamentary elections. Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS’s chairman and Poland’s de facto leader, warned that the “LGBT movement imported [into Poland] threatens our identity, our nation, its continued existence, and therefore the Polish state”.
Senior figures in the Catholic church have also warned of the alleged threat of “LGBT ideology”. Last month, the Archbishop of Kraków likened it to Nazism.
'The dark side of the homo-rainbow' – this week's cover of PiS-linked Sieci.
Inside, the deputy justice minister says Poland is 'the last big European country that can resist the promotion of the LGBT agenda', which is trying to 'destroy our traditions, our system of values' pic.twitter.com/1z3Idj2PN6
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 11, 2019
Monika Prończuk is the deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She was previously the Nico Colchester fellow at the Financial Times, acting FT Poland correspondent, and journalist at OKO.press, an independent fact-checking media outlet. Her articles have appeared in Quartz, Financial Times, Politico, Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny.