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2021. February 19.

Decision 6/2021 on insulting the community of Catholics

Decision number: IV/572/2020.
Subject of the case:

Constitutional complaint aimed at establishing the lack of conformity with the Fundamental Law and annulling the judgement No. Pfv.IV.21.163/2018/4 of the Curia (insulting the community of Catholics)

The Constitutional Court found that the judgements delivered by the Curia and the Budapest-Capital Regional Court in the subject-matter of offending the Catholic community were in conflict with the Fundamental Law and, therefore, annulled them. In the case underlying the procedure, the petitioners, as the members of the Catholic community, brought an action as plaintiffs with the Budapest-Capital Regional Court because of a performance performed at a demonstration against the position taken by the Polish Catholic Church in support of the prohibition of abortion. In their action, the plaintiffs asked the court to declare that through their affiliation with the Catholic religious community, which was an essential feature of their personality, the defendants violated their human dignity and their right to practice their religion freely by presenting a performance – subsequently uploaded to the internet – imitating the Eucharist, in which one protester placed a white pill from a bag labelled “abortion pill” on the tongue of the other two defendants, accompanied by making the statement “Body of Christ”. The Budapest-Capital Regional Court acting on first instance dismissed the action and the Curia, in its judgement closing the review proceedings, upheld the judgement of first instance. According to the petitioners, the judgements of the regional court and the Curia are contrary to the provisions of the Fundamental Law granting that the exercise of the freedom of expression may not be aimed at violating the human dignity of others or religious communities. In its decision, the Constitutional Court found that the challenged judgements acknowledged that the petitioners had been offended through their religious community, at the same time, they accepted the offensive communication as a constitutionally protected expression of opinion, without examining the content of the opinion of the specific conduct actually complained about or its contribution to the discussion of a public affair; consequently, the courts hearing the case (could) not have examined with due diligence whether or not the communication at issue was intended to offend the community concerned. With regard to offensive communication, the courts stated that members of the religious community were subject to a broad tolerance obligation similar to that of public figures, as a result, the protection of the dignity of the petitioners’ religious community was undermined by the exercise of the freedom of expression. The Constitutional Court found that the challenged decisions were in conflict with the Fundamental Law and therefore annulled them. However, the Constitutional Court stressed that due to the limitations of its competence, the Constitutional Court did not establish in its decision whether or not the specific act complained of in the case seriously harmed or unjustifiably offended the Catholic religious community and, through it, the human dignity of the petitioners, as it will be up to the courts proceeding repeatedly to judge upon these issues.