The EHF provided its support to the organisation of a Polish initiative, the Secularity Congress which was held in Warsaw on 21st and 22nd October. The congress was organized by an association composed of the representatives of numerous secularist NGOs, including Polish EHF’s humanist and rationalist members and was inspired by the so called “Women’s Congress” that have been organized for a number of years by some women’s NGOs supported by the former government of the Civic Platform.
The congress was dedicated to a variety of topics related to secularity and created an opportunity for scholars, NGO representatives and politicians, as well as citizens who treasure the idea of Poland as a secular state, to come together, share ideas and declare common goals.
Many of the lectures focused on legal issues, the constitution, the concordat and privileges of the Catholic Church in Poland, some focused on practical topics like the educational system or ethical queries like assisted suicide or LGBTQI rights. There was a whole panel dedicated to women’s rights as well.
One of the most important voices was the one of the Polish Ombudsman, dr. Adam Bodnar, one of the very few representatives of the opposition among the authorities, who during his lecture announced he had just taken action upon the request of Polish Rationalist Association, supported by EHF, to oblige The Polish Supreme Court to take a stand in regards to the procedure requested to declare apostasy for Polish citizens who no longer want to be considered as Catholics, and the fact that currently the Catholic Church in Poland is not bound by the Personally Identifiable Information Protection Act to recognize those declarations.
The congress also included an international panel with specialists from other countries presenting for the first time in Poland various models of secular state. This section was a particular contribution of the Polish Humanist Association which has for many years encouraged to adopt a more thoughtful approach to creating the Polish model of a secular state. Among the foreign speakers was Giulio Ercolessi, the President of EHF, who spoke about the historical development and the present challenges for secularity in Italy.
Within the Polish panels, a number of representatives of the EHF’s Polish Member Organisations took the floor. Andrzej Dominiczak, the President of Polish Humanist Association, spoke about freedom of thought, speech and artistic expression, as the fundamental value and basic condition that must be fully observed if we want all other secular rights and liberties be respected. He emphasized the fact that in recent years those freedoms have been undermined by nearly all, religious and non-religious ideologies that have attempted to restrict freedom on behalf of their various “holy truths.”
Jacek Tabisz, President of Polish Rationalist Association, explained that a stable secularity model should not be built only in opposition to the Catholic Church (a popular idea in Poland), but it should consider the rights of atheists and other minorities, as well as the threats to human rights which might arise from all religions.
Kaja Bryx, Vice-President of both EHF and the Polish Rationalist Association, presented humanist ceremonies as an example of a positive contribution of Humanists towards the secular, non-discriminating state, which could attract all sorts of people towards the idea of secularity.
One of the main goals of the congress was to establish political support to the idea of secularity. The organizers prepared a Secularity Manifesto to be signed by representatives of various political parties. Not a single party represented in the Parliament accepted the invitation, nevertheless it should be considered a success that the three biggest left-wing political parties (SLD, Zieloni and Razem) have all agreed with the Manifesto and signed it. Other, smaller left-wing parties have also been invited to join. Two sitting MPs took personally part in the Congress, although not on behalf or as representatives of their Liberal party.
Overall, it was a notable event and probably just the first of this kind, as most of the organizers seem to like the example of the Women’s Congress which, since 2009, has been organized every year in various parts of Poland. The organizing committee would also like to play an important political role aimed inter alia at integrating strongly divided progressive and leftist parties around the idea of secularity.
The day before the Secularity Congress in Warsaw, EHF President Giulio Ercolessi also took part in the 2017 edition of the “Freedom Games” in Łódź, organized by the Polish review Liberté (one of the sponsors of the Warsaw Secularity Congress) participating in an international panel discussion on “Populism in the Age of Internet”.
You can read the full manifesto here:
We, the undersigned, recognizing our responsibility for the Republic of Poland, deeply concerned about the observance of civil rights and freedoms as well as the political order and international image of our State, do oppose the clericalisation of public life and the preferential treatment of any religious denomination under the laws of Poland.
We hereby declare that our goal is to build a democratic, secular state governed by the rule of law.
We recognize that the following actions are necessary to achieve this goal:
- revoking art. 196 of the Criminal Code on insulting the so-called religious feelings or amending this provision in a way that would take into account the rights and sensibilities of non-believers;
- establishing citizens’ right to inspect and review the content of their personal data collected and processed by churches and/or religious associations;
- abolishing the statutory financial privileges of all churches and religious associations;
- ensuring equality of churches and religious organizations with secular and philosophical organizations, including in the field of taxation;
- denouncing the Concordat as favouring the Catholic denominational group or re-negotiating it to alleviate the excessive privileges of the Roman Catholic Church;
- discontinuing financing of churches, religious associations, church institutions and clergy from the state budget and local government budgets, and – if subsidies in any form are maintained – ensuring full respect for the principle of their full transparency and control;
- enforcing the secular nature of public schools that would fully respect the principles of neutrality of world-view and religion and carrying out education based upon the achievement of science and on universal values recognized by the international community in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the laws of European Union as well as by the Polish people in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland;
- excluding religion from compulsory school curriculum and treating it equally with other non-compulsory subjects;
- introducing anti-discrimination education into schools, addressing cultural and world-view diversity;
- ensuring unlimited, actual access to affordable contraceptives;
- liberalizing the anti-abortion law and introducing sexual education into schools;
- ensuring access to state-funded in-vitro fertilization (IVF) as an infertility treatment;
- amending or repealing the so-called conscience clauses, referred to in art. 39 of the Law on the profession of doctor and dentist, as it restricts the patient’s right to use medical services and procedures;
- ensuring that everyone may enjoy the right to dignified death, irrespective of the religious or philosophical beliefs of doctors or medical personnel;
- ensuring equality within marriage and in the case of those unwilling to accept traditional marriage introducing civil unions for same-sex and/or opposite-sex couples;
- ensuring that the State unconditionally upholds the principle of freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that all persons, irrespective of religion or belief, have full equality before the law and are equally treated by public authorities;
- ensuring full respect for the constitutional right to non-disclosure of life-stance or religious beliefs as well as of information on membership of churches or religious associations;
- restoring the secular character of all public institutions, including schools and kindergartens, state offices, civil and military services as well as state ceremonials and ceremonies;
- ensuring state support for NGOs working for the protection of human and civil rights and the protection of rights of children, people with disabilities and victims of violence;
- introducing severe punishment for violating women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights;
- ensuring effective implementation and observance of the Conventionon preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence;
- fostering legislation on the protection of nature and animal rights and the effective enforcement of these provisions, both in the area of breeding and research and of religious practices, taking into account the principle of ensuring the welfare of animals and minimizing their suffering;
Recognizing that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is closely related to the separation of Church and State and the presence of religion in the public sphere, we furthermore declare that we shall make every endeavour to establish a research institution to monitor the observance of laws ensuring secularity of the State, to conduct studies on the influence of religions and churches on social and political life in Poland and to inspire political and legal changes aimed at more effective protection of the rights and freedoms of all citizens, strict observance of the secular character of the state and strengthening democratic culture in Poland.