The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching. It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others. The constitution states “churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.” It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence. The constitution specifies that relations with the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by an international concordat concluded with the Holy See and by statute, and relations with other churches and religious organizations by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements between representatives of these groups and the Council of Ministers.
According to the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services. The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs. It states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others. The constitution acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity. The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations whose programs are based on Nazism or communism.
The criminal code outlaws public speech that offends religious sentiment. The law prescribes a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,300), or up to two years in prison for violations.
Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of that relationship and procedures for communal property restitution. The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish National Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union. Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right. An additional 166 registered religious groups and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.
The law provides equal protection to all registered religious groups. In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church participate in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, cochaired by the minister of interior and administration and a bishop, currently the Archbishop of Gdansk, which meets regularly to discuss Catholic Church-state relations. The government also participates in a joint government-Polish Ecumenical Council committee, cochaired by a Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA) undersecretary and the head of the Polish Ecumenical Council (an association composed of seven denominations and two religious associations, all of them non-Roman Catholic Christian), which meets to discuss issues related to minority Christian churches operating in the country.
Religious groups not the subject of specific legislation may register with the MIA, but registration is not obligatory. To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background on its doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new member recruitment. If the ministry rejects the registration application, religious groups may appeal to an administrative court. By law, the permissible grounds for refusal of an application are failure to meet formal requirements or inclusion in the application of provisions that may violate public safety and order, health, public morality, parental authority or freedom, and rights of other persons. Unregistered groups may worship, proselytize, publish or import religious literature freely, and bring in foreign missionaries, but they have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as owning property or holding bank accounts in their name. The 186 registered and statutorily recognized religious groups receive other privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as selective tax benefits – they are exempt from import tariffs, property taxes and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities, and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes – and the right to acquire property and teach religion in schools.
Four commissions oversee communal religious property restitution claims submitted by their respective statutory filing deadlines, one each for the Jewish community, Lutheran Church, and Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property they owned and that was nationalized during or after World War II (WWII). A separate commission overseeing claims by the Roman Catholic Church completed its work in 2011. The MIA and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions. The law states decisions by the commission ruling on communal property claims may not be appealed, but the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts. There have been no reports of parties filing such appeals. The law does not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after WWII.
There is no comprehensive national law governing private property restitution. Members of religious groups, like other private claimants, may pursue restitution through the courts.
The law authorizes Warsaw city authorities to expeditiously resolve long-standing restitution cases affecting Warsaw properties now being used for public purposes. Warsaw city officials must post a notification of specific public properties for a six-month period during which original owners of the property must submit their claims. At the end of the six-month period, Warsaw city authorities may make a final determination on the disposition of the property, either declaring that the property shall remain public and not be subject to any future claims, or returning the property or monetary compensation to the original owner.
In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes. Schools must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it. Each registered religious group determines the content of classes in its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state. Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class; the ethics class is optional even if students decline to take a religion class.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution on the basis of religion or belief.
The constitution recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds but states such objectors may be required to perform alternative service as specified by law.
The human rights ombudsman is responsible for safeguarding human and civil freedoms and rights, including the freedom of religion and conscience, specified in the constitution and other legal acts. The ombudsman is independent from the government, and appointed by parliament.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On July 31, the MIA approved the registration of the Church of the Living God, originally applied for in 2016. According to the MIA, the average length of time to process a registration application is approximately two years.
On February 6, the president signed into law amendments to the IPN law, which stated anyone who publicly assigned the “Polish state or nation” responsibility or joint responsibility for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich during WWII could be fined or imprisoned for up to three years. After signing the law, the president referred it to the Constitutional Court over concerns it violated free speech protections. On June 26, following significant international criticism of the law, parliament voted to remove the provisions criminalizing attribution of Nazi crimes to the Polish state or nation, and the president signed the legislation the same day. The civil penalties in the law remained unchanged, as did the provisions criminalizing denial of purported Ukrainian WWII-era collaboration and war crimes. Under the civil provisions, the Institute of National Remembrance and NGOs established to defend the country’s historical record may file suit to defend the country’s reputation and demand a retraction and payment of compensation to the state or a charity.
On February 17, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated in response to a journalist’s question that the IPN law would not affect the ability to say, “…there were Polish perpetrators [during WWII], as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as well as Ukrainian perpetrators – not only German perpetrators.”
On June 27, Prime Minister Morawiecki and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a joint declaration supporting free and open historical expression and research on the Holocaust and condemning all forms of anti-Semitism, and called for a return to civil and respectful public dialogue. On July 5, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Yad Vashem Institute criticized the IPN law and the prime ministers’ joint declaration, stating the penalties remaining in the amended law could harm researchers, impede research, and interfere with the historical memory of the Holocaust.
In July parliamentarians from the PiS Party voted down a motion in the Sejm (parliament) National and Ethnic Minority Committee to request the prime minister to review a June 2017 written appeal by several Muslim organizations to the speaker of the lower house of parliament to protect the Muslim minority in the country. The authors of the appeal stated political debates reinforced anti-Muslim messages in media and could lead to an escalation of xenophobic behavior against Muslims.
According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions resolved 87 communal property claims during the year, out of approximately 3,240 pending claims by religious groups. At year’s end, the commissions had partially or entirely resolved a total of 2,810 of 5,554 claims by the Jewish community, 989 of 1,200 claims by the Lutheran community, 268 of 472 claims by the Orthodox Church, and 87 of 170 claims by all other denominations.
Critics continued to point out the laws on religious communal property restitution do not address the issue of disputed communal properties now privately owned, and the government left several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. These included a number of cases in which buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WWII. The Jewish community continued to report the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow, involved considerable legal expense, and often ended without any recovery of property or other compensation for claimants.
Warsaw city authorities continued implementing the 2015 law critics stated might extinguish potential claims by private individuals, including Jews and members of other religious minorities, on public properties seized in WWII or the communist era. On September 17, Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz stated that since the law entered into force in September 2016, the city had discontinued 48 dormant claims filed before 1950 and refused 58 restitution claims against public properties. These included schools, preschools, a park, a police command unit site, a hospital, and city-owned apartment houses. There was no information available as to the identity of those claiming prior ownership or whether any belonged to religious minorities.
The World Jewish Restitution Organization sent a formal request to the Mayor of Warsaw asking the city to give claimants sufficient time to complete succession proceedings (proving legal inheritance or succession in Polish courts) to avoid the discontinuance of their property claims. The mayor responded the city was obligated to administer the public property restitution law as it was passed by the national parliament and upheld by the Constitutional Court.
A special government commission led by Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki continued to investigate accusations of irregularities in restitution of private property in Warsaw. On June 30, the commission reported it had reviewed 593 prior restitution cases and issued 74 decisions during its first 12 months of operations in 2016-17. The commission chair estimated the commission’s actions returned 700 million zloty ($186.52 million) in property value to the city of Warsaw. Several NGOs and lawyers representing claimants, including lawyers representing Holocaust survivors or their heirs, stated the commission had had a negative effect on private property restitution cases, as administrative and court decisions had slowed down in response to the commission’s decisions.
On February 12, the head of the committee of the Council of Ministers responsible for coordinating legislation announced the justice ministry’s October 2017 comprehensive private property restitution draft legislation needed further revisions and analysis, and that there were questions about its potential costs and compliance with national and international law. The proposed law would block any physical return of former properties, whether the properties were currently privately or publicly owned, provide compensation of 20-25 percent of the property’s value at the time of taking in cash or government bonds, and set a one-year claims filing period. The draft legislation continued to draw intense media coverage and public scrutiny. NGOs and advocacy groups expressed concern the legislation would exclude foreign potential claimants, many of whom were Holocaust survivors or their heirs. For example, according to media reports in February, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the World Jewish Congress sent government officials letters criticizing the bill, stating it would end return of properties in kind, provide unjustly low compensations for lost properties, and place unjust restrictions on the persons eligible for compensation. The government had not announced any updates on the status of the draft law by year’s end.
On November 11, the government led a march through Warsaw in celebration of 100 years of the country’s regained independence. The march occurred together with the annual Independence Day March organized by a coalition of groups, such as National Radical Camp (ONR) and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. While there were no reports of anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim posters or chants and no reports of violence, a small number of participants displayed Celtic crosses, a far-right nationalist symbol, and messages such as “Poland, White and Catholic.”
On July 27, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected the final appeal of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to which the MIA denied registration in 2013.
On January 29, the director of state-run television station TVP-2, Marcin Wolski, stated on air that Nazi concentration camps were “not German or Polish camps, but Jewish camps,” arguing that Jews operated the crematoria at Auschwitz. During the same program, political commentator and author Rafal Ziemkiewicz stated, “Jews were part of their own destruction” during the Holocaust. On February 7, Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro asked the Warsaw prosecutor’s office to conduct a preliminary review to determine whether Wolski and Ziemkiewicz’s comments violated the law preventing public offense on the grounds of national, ethnic, racial, or religious identity. At year’s end, the government had not disclosed any information about the status of the review.
On February 8, PiS Party Parliamentary Caucus Deputy Chair Jacek Zalek said during a televised interview that Germans, not Poles, killed Jews in the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom in which at least 300 Jews perished when a barn in which they were locked was set afire. Historians have found that Jews in Jedwabne were killed by their Polish neighbors while under Nazi occupation.
On February 22, PiS Party Senator Waldemar Bonkowski posted anti-Semitic material on his Facebook page, including a video edited from Nazi propaganda movies. The party suspended Bonkowski’s party membership that same day. Bonkowski’s membership remained suspended at year’s end.
In March opposition parliamentarian Kornel Morawiecki from the Freedom and Solidarity Party said in an interview that Jews moved into WWII-era ghettos voluntarily because “they were told it would be an enclave for them where they would not have to deal with those nasty Poles.”
In June the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council rejected complaints by news portal Okopress and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland regarding February 24 comments made on state-run television station TVP Info by Roman Catholic priest Henryk Zielinski. Zielinski stated, “For us, the truth means the consistency of what we say with the facts. For the Jew…if [he] is a religious Jew, the truth means what God wants. If he is not religious, the truth is subjective or the truth will be what serves the interests of Israel.” The council said Zielinski’s comments could not be considered as offensive or inciting hatred, and that the discussion on the program covered important philosophical and theological topics necessary to facilitating dialogue and agreement on disputed issues.
In July the Ministry of Culture awarded Ryszard Makowski the Gloria Arts Medal for Merit to Culture, one of the country’s highest distinctions for artistic contribution to the nation’s culture and heritage. In March Makowski, who previously made anti-Semitic jokes on a public television show in 2016, wrote an opinion article in which he criticized the Polish government for inadvertently funding anti-Polish narratives through its support for museums such as the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, and accused Jews of creating their own anti-Semitism.
Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.
There were no publicly available updates on the status of the investigation the government ordered in 2017 about a 1999 video showing naked persons laughing and playing tag in a concentration camp gas chamber at the former Nazi Stutthof concentration camp.
In January Prime Minister Morawiecki and other political and religious leaders joined Holocaust survivors to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The prime minister stated that “crushing… force [had] exterminated the Jewish people and a part of the Polish nation,” and that there was no justification for “criminal ideologies,” including anti-Semitism.
On February 10, in comments on the revised IPN law, PiS Party Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski condemned anti-Semitism as a “disease of the mind and soul.”
On January 13, MIA Minister Joachim Brudzinski condemned xenophobic and aggressive behavior against people because of their skin color, religion, or beliefs following an incident that day in which two men insulted two Syrian citizens in Wroclaw. Police detained two suspects, who were charged with public insult on the basis of national origin. There was no further information available on the case.
On April 21, law enforcement officials in the town of Dzierzoniow disrupted plans by groups whom media and law enforcement described as neofascists to organize a concert celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Approximately 300 police officers and Internal Security Agency officers conducted a series of raids in the area, resulting in the questioning of approximately a dozen persons and the detention of the two men suspected of organizing the concert.
On January 15, President Andrzej Duda and his wife hosted an interfaith holiday gathering with representatives of various religious groups and national minorities. The president said, “Many generations of Poles, irrespective of their language and religion, have jointly fought for a free and independent Poland,” and added that the country provided “security, peace, and the possibility for all Poles to live a normal life.”
On February 27, President Duda and his wife visited the Krakow Jewish community preschool and nursery, and met with Krakow Jewish Community Chair Tadeusz Jakubowicz and Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich. During the meeting, the president said Poles and Jews had 1,000 years of shared history and praised the contribution of many Jews to the country’s independence.
On March 6, the lower house of parliament adopted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism to mark the 50th anniversary of the March 1968 purges in which the communist government exiled thousands of Jews from the country. The resolution condemned all manifestations of anti-Semitism and the 1968 communist government.
In March parliament passed, and the president signed, legislation designating March 24 as a national holiday commemorating Poles who saved Jews during WWII.
On April 12, President Duda marched together with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the International March of the Living, an annual educational program that brought individuals from around the world to Poland to study the history of the Holocaust.
On June 14, Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo attended the 78th anniversary of the first deportation of Poles to Auschwitz at a ceremony at the site of the Nazi death camp.
On October 14, the government organized an official commemoration on the 75th anniversary of the uprising at the Sobibor Nazi extermination camp, with the participation of the Presidential Chancellery (Minister Wojciech Kolarski, who read the letter from the president), Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski, former prisoners, and representatives from the prisoners’ countries of origin, including Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, France, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria.
The government continued to fund exchanges with national participants and Israeli Jews as part of a long-term cultural exchange agreement with the government of Israel to foster dialogue on restitution, the Holocaust, and interfaith issues.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.