Polish academics fear Catholic group’s role in ‘free speech’ law

Changes will give platform in universities to anti-abortionists and climate change deniers, claim opponents

二月 13, 2020
Krakow old town
Source: iStock

Polish academics have raised fears about government moves to create a committee to rule on alleged “freedom of speech” violations in universities, highlighting the involvement of a group of ultra-conservative Catholic lawyers in the proposed legislative changes.

Ordo Iuris, which describes itself as defending the Polish constitution against “radical ideologies that aggressively question the existing social order”, said the ruling Law and Justice party’s amendments to the controversial 2018 higher education law, to introduce clauses to protect freedom of speech in universities and to create a new committee to rule on alleged breaches, were “based on the draft” it submitted.

The proposed law change follows a high-profile free speech controversy at the University of Silesia in Katowice, where students complained that an academic had expressed homophobic and anti-abortion views during lectures.

Łukasz Bernaciński, a member of Ordo Iuris who is studying for a PhD in law at the University of Łódź, said the organisation had published a report in January describing key “violations” of free speech in Polish universities in recent years. Ordo Iuris, he added, “drafted a bill” that it presented to the minister of science and higher education, Jarosław Gowin, a former university rector who is also the deputy prime minister.

“The project met with great interest, so the ministry decided to start work on changing the law,” Mr Bernaciński continued. “Currently, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education has drafted a bill that is based on the draft submitted by Ordo Iuris Institute.”

The Silesia controversy had “a direct impact” on Ordo Iuris’ interest in the issue, he said. Students had been “outraged at the Christian concept of the family, taught based on scientific foundations and research”, he said.

“This means that there has been a dangerous precedent that may prohibit universities from presenting research on specific phenomena and prevent academic debate on these topics,” Mr Bernaciński said. The new committee on free speech “would issue non-binding recommendations to university authorities”, he added.

A ministry spokesman said Ordo Iuris “did not participate in the preparation of the project”, but rather was “one of many organisations and institutions…invited to participate during the open public consultation phase”.

Jarosław Płuciennik, professor of the humanities, cultural studies and religion, and former pro vice-chancellor for education at the University of Łódź, said committee members would be “like disciplinary judges who will introduce a lot of stress on academics, who will be afraid of dealing with many issues because they will be afraid of losing their jobs”.

He added: “It’s a philosophy which can be described in two words: discipline and punish.”

Professor Płuciennik feared the proposed law was a way to “allow expressions of views in academia”, potentially providing a platform in universities for those in the Catholic Church who campaign for a total ban on abortion, or for climate change deniers.

Ordo Iuris was “very radical” and “very proud of influencing people in Poland”, and saw academia as a “liberal, leftist” bastion, Professor Płuciennik said.

The ministry’s spokesman said the proposed law change “addresses many situations that indicate the need for intervention to protect academic freedom, including freedom of expression when teaching, research or a debate open to various scientific arguments is at risk”.

He said the ministry was “fully aware” of the concerns of some academics. “The representative bodies of the Polish academic community are actively involved in a dialogue with the ministry; we [are] all working constructively towards formulating an optimal legal framework,” he added.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

It sounds from the article like Ordo Iuris are the ones defending free speech and the "students [who] complained that an academic had expressed homophobic and anti-abortion views during lectures" are the ones aiming to restrict it.
Replace the word 'Catholic' with the name of any other religious group, and try to imagine this article being presented in this way in Times Higher Education.
I'm just going throw in my two cents - Ordo Iuris is definitely NOT defending free speech. They are fighting for overall image of Polish society, which is based on almost entirely Bible-like structure. Their goal is to enforce their "correct" opinions (which are by the way almost exclusively hate-speech and anti-human rights) while at the same time limit or forbid others from expressing theirs. The "they try to take our freedom of speech by not letting us talk about, for example, abortion shaming" argument is a perfect example of manipulation this organisation uses when it has to justify or explain it's actions - it's actions being enforcing their extremist-Catholic agenda and views on others (read entire Polish population, and Europe... And the rest of the world, if they would have the chance - it's not like they're hiding with that), by for example assisting my current government with changing the law and our constitution to suit their needs. Not to mention, that freedom of speech is "cool'n'all", but turns quite dark, when you use it to defend confirmed pedophile priests, calling their victims "wh...s, sl...s" and the like and promote an image of a woman, that is pretty much a "lesser species" that has no right to decide about herself (I'm a 25 year old male and I'm ashamed that so many people in my age group see this example as a thing to aspire to...). Am I a little biased, perhaps - however this organisation's actions in Poland have shown nothing else, besides another group that seeks domination and power at the cost of others. Read about them first please before saying, that they're just struggling to have access to their basic rights. Also, I do see a problem with a professor speaking in class about his views on matters like abortion or sexual preferences/identity. Simple example: during a class devoted to 'developmental psychology of children' , the lecturer made a statement at some point of her presentation, that "You know, it's so worrying that this homosexual ideology crawled it's way to our country - I mean, teenagers saying they're gay just doesn't make any sense, it's just temporary fashion. And then it sticks with them until they grow up. It's dangerous, not observing your child while it grows up". We had a girl in class who IS gay. Guess she felt amazing to find out she's just a "mistake in the development". So yeah, this is the 'freedom of speech' Ordo Iuris is fighting for.

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