Is Poland a religious or secular country?
A false alternative
Fr. Józef Krukowski
Reading a series of articles in the latest weeklies on the issues concerning the relation between the State and the Church in connection with the electoral success of Janusz Palikot, made me to undertake the problem whether this country is religious or secular. It turns out that slogans proclaimed by him are not accidently publicized in media which are the property of the foreign capital. It is characteristic that they were initiated by an obscure article entitled: ‘A dispute about the relation: the State – the Church. Secular? Religious?’ in ‘ The General Weekly’ (30 October 2011), the authorship of Marek Zając. The problems connected with this issue are sarcastically and aggresively continued by many other authors in the ‘Newseek Poland’ (3 November 2011), in the ‘Politics’ (2-7 November 2011), the ‘Electoral Newspaper’ and others. Consequently, these facts show that it is a programmed action of manipulating our society. It is probably an attempt of distracting people’s attention from the financial and economic crisis to which the European economy has been led, and which has been formed on the basis of liberal ideological assumptions, according to which the country cannot restrict the freedom of private banks conducting the world’s economy at the harm to the society.
The common assumption of the authors of the aforementioned publications is to impose a false suggestion on the public opinion that the contemporary Polish country is a religious country and the Catholic Church is the State Church; their purpose is a model of a secular country in the version of the so-called hostile and closed to Christian values separation. It is supposed to be expressed by removing religious symbols and rules of Christian morality from the public life. Its first sign is a postulate of the member of parliament Palikot about removing the Cross from the hall of meetings in the parliament of the Polish Republic. The astonishment may be caused by the fact that the authors of these publications, by supporting Palikot’s postulates, refer to the guaranteed rule in the Constitution of the Polish Republic about ‘ the impartiality of the State towards religious beliefs’. However, this justification is an obvious falsification of the Constituion of the Polish Republic of 1997, which clearly states: ‘The organs of the public authority maintain the impartiality towards religious, philosophical and world- opinion beliefs, ensuring the freedom of their manifestation in the public life’ (art. 25 paragraph 2). Marek Zając goes even further than Janusz Palikot. For, he suggests that the responsibility for Palikot’s pronouncement in the matter of removing the Cross from the meeting hall in the parliament of the Polish Republic belongs to the Polish Episcopate because last year it did not protest ‘explicitly and unanimously’ in the dispute about the presence of the Cross in Krakowskie Przedmieście when the leader of the opposition named the crucifix ‘a substitute for a monument’. In this situation I want to explain to Mr Editor that: firstly, the Cross, which was placed in Krakowskie Przedmieście in front of the Presidential Palace by scouts in order to manifest mourning after the tragic Smolensk catastrophe, was not a crucifix; and secondly, the Constitution of the Polish Republic guarantees the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs in the public space, also in the form of a prayer and other religious practices, of ‘every man and citizen’(art. 53, paragraph 1-2), regardless of the opinion of leaders in the governing or the opposing party. Unless in the opinion of Marek Zając, the guarantee of the right to the religious freedom, written in the Constitution of the Polish Republic, the right rooted in the natural human dignity, are only a dead letter. By the way, it is worth reminding that the right guaranteed in the Constitution of the Polish Republic belongs to everyone. For, in the opinion of Mr Zając, it is not the right given by the organs of the State authority, whose realization depends on unanimous attitude of bishops. This right certainly also belongs to Mr Palikot and his comrades but they have not got any competence in order to forbid other members of parliament to manifest their beliefs in the form of the Cross. Whereas Mr Palikot has got a right to manifest his nihilistic beliefs in the meeting hall in the Seym of the Polish Republic. He can use the same symbols which he used to demonstrate during a press conference. As far as I remember it was a pig snout and penis. I do not exclude the fact that with changing his party affiliation, he changed his beliefs and will suggest other symbols.
The strength of the Church
Referring to the attitude of the authors of the article ‘Polish State Religion’ (‘Newsweek Poland’ of 3 November this year) expressed in the form of sarcastic ‘postulate’ of introducing a rule into the Constitution of the Polish Republic, following the example of Great Britain that ‘Catholicism is the State religion’, it is worth noting that Great Britain has not got a written Constitution and its Constitution was not a model for Poland in this issue. Poland was not a Catholic country in the same sense as Great Britain was an Anglican country. Polish kings did not lead bloody religious wars as English kings after breaking the unity with the Holy See by Henry VIII. It is also worth reminding that when the supporters of reformation were trying to persuade the Polish king Zygmunt August to proclaim himself the Head of the Church in Poland he stated that ‘he is not the king of human consciences’. What is more, in the period of religious wars in Western Europe, Catholic Poland was ‘a refuge for heretics’ from Western Europe. It is also worth remembering that when in the period of the partitions, the Polish country was divided between the neighbouring countries whose authorities were aiming at the Russification or Germanization of the Polish population, the Catholic Church strengthened the Polish nation in the development of its culture and supported it in its aim for regaining the political independence. It was similar in the period of Hitler’s occupation and the Soviet occupation and it is similar nowadays – after regaining the independence by the Polish nation and the change of the regime of the communist totalitarianism into the democratic one. Whereas there are cases of insulting religious feelings of the Catholics by non-Catholics towards whom the State authorities show their passiveness.
Religion at schools
In connection with the postulate of the authors of the aforementioned article in ‘Newsweek’ and the Member of Parliament Palikot in the matter of the change of rules on teaching religion at public schools in Poland, it is worth considering the statistic data. According to the recent calculations of 2010 by the Main Statistic Office, the population of Poland amounted to 38 135,5 thousand. 35 104,5 thousand people belonged to the Catholic Church, which indicated 92,1 percent. In this context it is worth noting that teaching religion at public schools in Poland is organized in the facultative form. Teaching religion at Polish schools is used by non-Catholics on the same rights as the Catholics. Teaching religion in public schools in Poland is an expression of respecting the Constitutional rule of the cooperation between the State and the Church in the sphere of educating children according to their beliefs. This possibility is used by students whose parents belong to 25 of 170 churches and other religious associations with regulated legal situation. For, not all the churches are interested in organizing teaching religion of their believers in public schools. However, it must not mean that teaching religion in public schools should be forbidden to those students whose parents - or only students after reaching their age – have submitted a declaration in this matter. Teaching lay ethics in a public school in Poland is also guaranteed, to the wish of parents or students after reaching their age. However, not many people are willing to take advantage of the ethics lesson. However there happened a case of refusal by the school authorities in Gorzów Wielkopolski to organize ethics lesson only for one pupil of agnostic parents. This case found its epilogue in the Tribunal of Human Rights in Strasburg. The Tribunal stated that the Polish law does not raise any reservations in this issue from the point of view of the European Convention of Human Rights, whereas its applying was defective.
The Polish society – the nation with Christian roots
In connection with the postulate of supporters of the ideology extremely liberal of giving the Polish country the secular character in a version of the separation closed to religious values, it should be noted that the Polish society is a Catholic nation rooted in Christian religion and culture. Whereas, the contemporary Polish country is a secular country in which the organs of the public authority are obliged to protect the right of every man and citizen to manifest their religious, philosophical and world-opinion beliefs, and also to respect the Christian spiritual heritage of the nation. It results from the statement included in the Preamble to the Constitution of the Polish Republic. However, the fact that the Polish society is pluralistic cannot be ignored. So, there happen situations in which there is a need of looking for compromising solutions. However, Polish parliamentarians, as the representatives of the nation rooted in the Christian culture, cannot go on a compromise without ethical boundaries. And just in this issue Marek Zając states: ‘It is impossible to construct the law in such a way and through its dead letter arbitrate unanimously every dispute in the religious and secular line. It will always be the issue of sensitivity and readiness to concessions, when we realize that our neighbour’s harm would be more painful than ours ’. It is unquestionable that it is an attitude closer to the rules of Buddhist ethics than the Christian one. For it clearly departs from the teaching of Pope John Paul II who clearly stated that a politician cannot follow the ethical relativism and mainly that: ‘(...) the law which does not respect human right to life from the conception to the natural death, regardless of the man’s state – whether he is healthy or ill and who is still in the embryo phase, old or dying – is not a law consistent with God’s plan; consequently, a Christian legislator cannot take part in making this law or approve it in the forum of the parliament although in a situation when the law already exists, he is allowed to suggest amendments within a parliamentary debate which lower the harmfulness of this law. The same should be said about each Act which would work at the harm of a family, threaten its unity and indissolubility or gives the legal status to other couples between people of the same sex who would like to become an equal surrogate of a family based on the marriage between a man and a woman’ (the pronouncement of John Paul II addressed to parliamentarians and politicians on 4 November 2000 – ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ 1/2001, p.24). It should be expected that Polish parliamentarians will remember this indication of Blessed John Paul II more than the precept of Marek Zając.
The common welfare
However, first of all, there is an urgent need for all citizens of our country , especially parliamentarians and publicists, to realize the fact that the Constitution of the Republic of Poland of 1997 includes the model of a secular country, based on the rule of respecting the equality of Churches and other religious groups, that in the place of the rule hostile towards separation, there is inscribed a positive rule or respecting the autonomy and reciprocal independence of the Church and the State, each in their range, and cooperation between them for the sake of the common welfare of the same people who are members of the both societies, each of them respectively. Whereas the common welfare means building such a harmony and legal order which respects rights and freedom belonging to every man, every family and the whole nation rooted in the Christian culture. The Cross in the Seym does not give the State a religious character or the Church a state character in any way, but it is a sign of respecting the spiritual national heritage by the majority of representatives of the society.