PLOCK, Poland — A Polish court has acquitted three activists who had been accused of desecration and offending religious feelings for producing and distributing images of a revered Roman Catholic icon altered to include the LGBTQ rainbow.
The posters, which they distributed in the city of Plock in 2019, used rainbows as halos in an image of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. Their aim was to protest what they considered the hostility of Poland’s influential Catholic church toward LGBTQ people.
The image involved an alteration of Poland’s most-revered icon, the Mother of God of Czestochowa, popularly known as the Black Madonna and Baby Jesus of Czestochowa. The original has been housed at the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa — Poland’s holiest Catholic site — since the 14th century.
The court in Plock did not see evidence of a crime and found that the activists were not motivated by a desire to offend anyone’s religious feelings but wanted to defend those facing discrimination, according to Polish news reports.
The conservative group that filed the case, the Life and Family Foundation, said it planned to appeal.
“Defending the honor of the Mother of God is the responsibility of each of us, and the guilt of the accused is indisputable,” the group’s founder Kaja Godek wrote on Facebook.
The case was seen in Poland as a test of freedom of speech under a deeply conservative government that has been pushing back against secularization and liberal views.
Abortion has been another flashpoint in the country after the recent introduction of a near-total ban.
One defendant, Elzbieta Podlesna, said when the trial opened in January that the 2019 action in Plock was spurred by an installation at the city’s St. Dominic’s Church that associated LGBTQ people with crime and sins.
She, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar could have faced up to two years of prison if found guilty.
An LGBTQ rights group, Love Does Not Exclude, called the ruling a “breakthrough.” and “triumph” in “the most homophobic country of the European Union.”
Podlesna told the Onet news portal that the desecration provision in the penal code “leaves a door open to use it against people who think a bit differently.
“I still wonder how the rainbow — a symbol of diversity and tolerance — offends these feelings,” Podlesna said. “I cannot understand it, especially since I am a believer.”
Podlesna was arrested in 2019, held for several hours and questioned about the posters. A court later said the detention was unnecessary and ordered damages of about $2,000 awarded to her.