Three Polish women who were accused of desecrating the Virgin Mary's image and “offending religious feelings” were recently acquitted in court.
The case began in April 2019 when the women displayed posters and stickers around Plock, Poland, to oppose what one of them described as the "exclusion of LGBT people from society.” Their actions were meant to protest growing anti-LGBT+ hostility within Poland and it’s heavily Catholic culture which is closely aligned with the right-wing conservative government.
3 activists in Poland were acquitted of offending religion by making posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo.
They faced 2 yrs in prison.
The posters were to protest anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes. Groups say activists face rampant intimidation by the anti-LGBTQ+ government. pic.twitter.com/xxFRwmDtPw
— AJ+ (@ajplus) March 2, 2021
The three LGBTQ activists were arrested after they recreated a famous Madonna and Child painting with colorful rainbow halos. They altered, copied, and distributed the rainbow-ladened images in response to an Easter display at a local church describing “gender” and “LGBT” as sins.
The Roman Catholic icon used in the artwork, "Our Lady of Czestochowa," more commonly known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, is revered by many Polish Catholics. The original is housed at a monastery in Jasna Gora, Czestochowa — Poland’s holiest site since the 14th century.
If the court found them guilty, the women would have been faced with a potential sentence of two years in prison.
The acquittal of the activists transpired only days after Polish singer Adam “Nergal” Darski of extreme metal band Behemoth created a legal defense fund for other artists accused of blasphemy.
"Nobody should be excluded from society," Elzbieta Podlesna, one of the women acquitted, told the BBC. Podlesna is a Polish civil rights activist. "Sexual orientation is not a sin, or a crime, and the Holy Mother would protect such people from the Church and from priests who think it is okay to condemn others."
Police raided the home of Elżbieta Podlesna. She said they seized her possessions and questioned her for several hours.
Podlesna spoke with Onet, a Polish news outlet, after the verdict. She said she was baffled by some reactions regarding the image displayed.
“I still wonder how the rainbow — a symbol of diversity and tolerance — offends these feelings. I cannot understand it, especially since I am a believer,” she said.
Some politicians supported the charges with Joachim Brudzinski, the previous Interior Minister,
saying that "all that nonsense about freedom and 'tolerance' does not give ANYONE the right to insult the feelings of the faithful."
According to Polish media, the court did not see any evidence of a crime. They found the activists were not trying to offend anyone’s religious feelings; they just wanted to defend LGBTQ victims of discrimination.
According to local news, the judge stated in his verdict, “The activists’ activities were provocative, but aimed at drawing attention to the homophobic and harmful decor in the church in Płock. They did it to show that such actions were unacceptable.”
“It was not the intention of the activists to insult anyone’s religious feelings or to insult the image of the Mother of God. Their actions were aimed at protecting people who were discriminated against.”
He underscored that LGBT+ people have a place in the church. And he referenced letters from members of the church who said they were not offended by the rainbow-halo image.
“There are no sexual acts in the painting, and only such acts are considered a sin in the teaching of the Church,” noted the judge.