Prosecutors are seeking to bring a man to trial in Poland for “offending religious sentiment” – a crime that carries a potential prison sentence of up to two years – over an incident in which he entered a church wearing a hat.

“There are generally accepted rules in the church that men do not go inside in hats,” one of the offended parishioners told a court about the incident, in which a group of men were confronted by congregants and the parish priest. “They entered the church for provocative purposes.”

However, one participant in the scuffle – who had also been wearing a hat – argues that the only offence to religious feelings was committed by the priest, Andrzej Adamiak, who has a previous conviction for using a stun gun on a tourist who took a dog into church grounds.

The incident in question took place in 2016, when 24-year-old Bartosz Horobowski attended a Christmas Eve mass at Sanktuarium Maria Śnieżna, a church at the peak of Igliczna mountain in southern Poland.

As he entered the church, wearing a hat and looking at his phone, he was approached by three members of the congregation – the priest’s housekeeper, the organist, and the father of an altar boy – who “verbally and physically attacked him”, reports liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

The priest, Adamiak, then approached another man nearby who was also wearing a hat and ripped it off his head then threw it on the ground. Horobowski began recording the event, after which the priest “became furious and pounced on him with his fists”, reports the paper.

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Three years later, in December 2019, the prosecutor’s office indicted Horobowski at a district court in the nearby town of Kłodzko. He was accused of “offending religious feelings”, a crime long on the books in Poland but which has been increasingly used in recent years under the current conservative government.

“In my opinion, entering in a hat was inappropriate behaviour,” one of the offended parishioners told the court. Her son, who served as an altar boy at the mass, agreed that it was a “profanation” for the the group of men to enter the church wearing hats and this “offended my religious feelings”.

He also said that he had been offended by the priest being slapped in the face while carrying a tray of wafers, which then fell to the ground and were trampled on.

“The one who hit the priest knew he was holding the tray and that he would let it go. This offended my religious feelings,” he said. “It was an insult to God,” said another parishioner. “This unpleasant event will remain in my memory for the rest of my life.”

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The question of whether and how the priest was hit remains contentious as video footage suggests he may have struck the first blow. One of the men who entered the church wearing a hat told the court that the wafers were dropped as a result of the priest trying to grab his headwear, not because of being struck.

The man, who works as a mountain rescuer, added that he had been wearing a hat because it was cold and he “did not intend to offend anyone’s religious feelings”.

“Religious feelings were violated here, but by Father Andrzej,” he added. In separate case, Adamiak was in 2018 given a sentence of ten months’ community service for shooting a tourist with a taser in June 2016 because he had entered the church grounds with a dog.

The priest had argued he was acting in self defence, but witness testimony and video footage showed that he had, in fact, been the aggressor, attacking the tourist without warning, reports TVN24.

The case relating to Horobowski was discontinued by the Kłodzko court last year, a decision then upheld on appeal. One of the judges “expressed regret that Horbaczewski was wrongly accused, forced to participate in an unnecessary, very stressful trial, and that taxpayers will pay the costs of the trial”.

However, prosecutors – who are under the ultimate authority of hardline justice minister and national prosecutor Zbigniew Ziobro – are now seeking to have the appeal itself overturned through a cassation process, reports Gazeta Wyborcza.

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The case is the latest in a number of recent prosecutions under Poland’s blasphemy law. Earlier this year, musician Adam Darski was convicted for offending religious feelings by posting a photo showing a shoe stamping on an image of the Virgin Mary. After he contested the judgement, the case will now go to full trial.

In March, a court found three LGBT activists not guilty of insulting religious feelings by adding rainbow colours to the halos of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in an image that then became a symbol of Poland’s LGBT rights movement.

Last year, prosecutors sought to have an opposition MP’s parliamentary immunity revoked so that she could face charges of offending religious feeling for protesting in a church against Poland’s near-total abortion ban.

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Main image credit: screenshot from CCTV

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