Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Polish lawyers in defense of life, family, and freedom (interview)

Jerzy Kwaśniewski (Source: Ordo Iuris)

“We are now in the process of developing a permanent presence for our representatives at the UN in New York. At present, no European conservative organization is represented on a permanent basis there, and yet this is where today’s human rights doctrine is forged. It is there that a very radical, ideological approach to education is being proposed and that very radical changes in human rights are being promoted through efforts to include the right to abortion under the purview of human rights.”


An interview with lawyer Jerzy Kwaśniewski, chairman of the Ordo Iuris Institute, conducted by Olivier Bault for Sovereignty.pl


Could you please give us a brief overview of what Poland’s Ordo Iuris Institute is?

From the beginning, Ordo Iuris has combined two areas of activity that support each other. The first is litigation intervention in precedent-setting cases. These are cases which can shape the jurisprudence of the courts, but also the way the law is applied by the public administration, such that the law serves to protect life, marriage, family, and freedom – all constitutional principles which, in our view, are most especially being threatened today.

The Institute’s second pillar is analytical and academic activity, developing legal doctrine and recommendations for lawmaking and practical application of the law.

We thus combine two areas of involvement, which are often separated – at least in the United States, where large legal think tanks operate. In Poland, where the market for independent think tanks is small, it was necessary to bring these two fields together under one umbrella in order to make our work really effective.

Could you give us some specific examples of what you’ve done?

From the very beginning, one of our areas of interest has been the problem of the unjustified removal of children from families when the reason for it is the family’s poverty, a poor financial situation, and sometimes some educational deficiency on the parents’ part, all of which can often be easily remedied without taking the children away. When we started dealing with this, which was ten years ago, we managed to generate a lot of publicity in relation to this issue. It became one of the highlights of the Polish Right’s 2015 election program.

Immediately after the Right’s election victory, we were asked to prepare the legislative changes that led to the banning of the removal of children from their parents solely on the grounds of poverty and deprivation, in 2016. These changes that were introduced in a number of laws have effectively halted the advance of the scourge of child abduction by the authorities in Poland. They also stopped the implementation of the Norwegian system.

Between 2010 and 2015, the previous government systematically tried to implement the methods of Norway’s Child Protection Service, the Barnevernet, in our country. This, of course, led us to take an interest in other European child protection systems as well, not least because of the very large number of Polish emigrants who had gone to countries where they were confronted with child protection systems that attempted to take their children away from them for all sorts of trivial reasons, which was completely new to them.

All Poles have heard of the problems associated with the Jugendamt in Germany, for example. Sometimes we hear about the Netherlands, Belgium, or the United Kingdom. But the oldest and most repressive system in this regard is in Norway. There, several hundred thousand Poles have children and have been confronted by the Barnevernet. That’s why we got involved in Norwegian affairs and, in a sense, transferred this battle that we had won against the system in Poland to Norway. We first started to help Polish families, but it became apparent quite quickly that the Norwegians needed support, too.

An example of this, and a very special one indeed, was the case of Silje Garmo, a Norwegian aristocrat who is the daughter of a parliamentarian who has also been an ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to various parts of the world. The Barnevernet decided to take her daughter away from her even before she gave birth. Silje was then forcibly placed in a facility for mothers and children, where she was observed and monitored 24 hours a day. She managed to escape from Norway with her child to Poland and turned to Ordo Iuris, because she had heard about our efforts in Norway against the Barnevernet. She asked for protection in Poland, and we spent a year and a half convincing the Polish government that this mother and child should be granted political asylum. In the end, our country’s Office for Foreigners, and later our Minister of Foreign Affairs, had to admit that there had indeed been systematic human rights violations on the part of Norway in this case, and they granted this Norwegian woman political asylum.

This was the first case of political asylum being granted to a Norwegian citizen in Poland since World War II. The Polish government’s stance soon became the “mainstream” position in Europe, given that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has now ruled in nearly 30 cases, stating that Norway is systematically violating human rights in the area of family protection precisely by taking children and separating them from their parents without good reason.

In this way, Poland has, in a sense, set in motion something that will probably lead to a reform of the system in Norway, and I hope throughout Europe as well in the coming years. This was also the purpose of the large report that we published in Oslo, which was a recommendation to the Norwegian government but also a description of all the wrongdoings that accompany such systems of oppression against the family.

So this is one area of our operations.

Our second major area is the issue of freedom of conscience. In this area, one of the first cases we handled was that of Professor Chazan, who was fired from his position as director of the Holy Family Hospital by the mayor of Warsaw because he refused to perform abortions, citing his constitutional right to freedom of conscience.

And although in 2015 the Polish Constitutional Tribunal affirmed a very broad right for a doctor to invoke the conscience clause while having no obligation to designate another place to perform an abortion in such a case, the city of Warsaw has been pursuing a lawsuit against Professor Chazan ever since. In the meantime, we were able to win various lawsuits against Left-wing politicians who insulted Prof. Chazan, attacked him, and then had to apologize to him, such as former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, as well as the leader of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), Piotr Ikonowicz.

After that, there were more and more such cases, but often they were not so high-profile. We were approached by doctors and midwives, including midwives from the Subcarpathian region who were forced to assist in what were then still legal abortions in a private hospital. These were eugenic abortions, in other words abortions involving children with Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome, for example.

There, we also provided assistance to both the midwives and the pro-lifers who protested outside the hospitals, so that one could protest while the midwives could work in accordance with their conscience.

Then pharmacists began to approach us. It turned out that the Polish laws regulating the pharmaceutical profession lacked provisions for pharmacists’ freedom of conscience. Thus, pharmacists were forced to dispense early abortion pills –  the so-called “emergency contraception pills” –  in pharmacies. There were also pharmacists who – for religious reasons, but also very often for scientific reasons – did not agree to sell contraceptives. They, too, were denied the opportunity to invoke the conscience clause, which was in clear contradiction to the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling that everyone has the right to conscientious objection, regardless of whether or not the relevant provisions are included in the law. To this day, we have conducted a number of such proceedings before the disciplinary courts of the pharmaceutical supervisory body where we point out precisely that the laws governing the pharmaceutical sector do not have to contain such provisions, since it follows from the Constitution itself that every person has the right to refuse to do something that he considers to be ethically wrong.

From a systemic point of view, we always emphasize that a mature democracy protects human rights by allowing its citizens to evaluate the law through the lens of ethics and to refuse to follow norms that are morally wrong.

You mentioned the Left as those who take away this right. But as I said in my question, I know you also defend those doctors who opposed the policies of the Right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government during the COVID-19 pandemic. I personally know a doctor, for example, who told me that Ordo Iuris is supporting her today. I interviewed her during the COVID pandemic for the dorzeczy.pl website, and because of her criticism of the Polish government’s health policy in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, she now faces proceedings from Poland’s High Medical Council, which is the doctors’ supervisory body. Could you say a few words about that as well?

Here we are dealing with yet another freedom, namely academic freedom and by extension freedom for the professions, including the medical profession, to be guided by their scientific knowledge in making recommendations to their patients and for public health.

We all remember that doctors, both those who presented the risks of vaccination in the public debate or who pointed out the disconnect between the risks carried by the COVID-19 disease itself and those of getting vaccinated against it, were harassed and banned from taking part in the public debate, and at the same time they were violently attacked in that same public debate as pseudo-scientists – all while disciplinary proceedings were initiated against them.

From the perspective of civil liberties, freedom of education, and freedom to exercise one’s profession, such repression is totally unacceptable. This is especially the case given that what we know now, at the end of 2023, confirms a great number of those assessments that were suppressed at the time. After all, we have completely fresh, unequivocal statements from vaccine manufacturers that the side effects which were ridiculed in the public debate at that time, and which were warned about by these doctors, are real. That is why we repeatedly take part in these proceedings, defending these doctors and supporting the emergence of a pro-freedom line of jurisprudence that will allow professionals, regardless of political pressure or the pressure of large corporations, to speak the truth openly and loudly. This is precisely so that we can make our own decisions about our personal health and the health of our loved ones.

Ordo Iuris also intervened in the high-profile case of an IKEA employee who was fired from his job because he refused to participate in the company’s LGBT promotion campaign, and who criticized it. And you also intervened, in another case, in defense of Professor Ewa Budzyńska of the University of Silesia…

Many of the cases we take on help to connect a specific victim and his or her case to a broader social problem. Prof. Ewa Budzyńska is a sociologist and long-time lecturer. During her lectures, she discussed the role of the family in Chinese, African, Jewish, and European cultures. Outlining the situation in Europe, she pointed out the deconstruction of the traditional roles of the family and marriage. At the same time, she expressed her own assessment and concern about the cultural undermining of the fundamental role played by the Christian family.

She was prosecuted for the content of her lectures by the university’s disciplinary officer, who, instead of explaining to her disgruntled students that they could enter into an exchange and debate with their professor, brought Mrs Budzyńska before the university’s disciplinary committee.

She resigned from the university as a gesture of honor, but the proceedings against her continued. And then her former university did things like changing the composition of the disciplinary committee and dismissing all of her defense counsel’s evidential requests. In this situation, in cooperation with two successive education ministers, we succeeded in having the law on higher education amended to include provisions affirming academic freedom and limiting the possibility of prosecuting scientists for their views. In this way, we have put up a permanent dam against the flood of cancel culture at Polish universities.

The other case worth mentioning is the dismissal of an IKEA employee for quoting the Scriptures. And this was just an example of what was happening in large global corporations as they opened up their operations in Poland and tried to colonize Polish workers ideologically. This IKEA employee responded to an article circulated by his employer suggesting that it is the employees’ duty to actively praise homosexual behavior as well as the political demands of the LGBT movement. IKEA’s reaction was to fire him.

In intervening, we first took care to properly defend the case in the public debate. All conservative and Catholic media in the country sided with the dismissed employee. An episcopal commission issued a letter urging Polish Catholics to emulate his example of bravery.

And after several years and two hearings in the labor courts, last month he was allowed to return to work following a final labor court ruling. Already in the Polish press, including in Gazeta Prawna (“Legal Journal”), there are opinions from a very large number of lawyers who state that our courtroom success means that the equality policies of multinational companies in Poland must be revised.

The consumer in the culture war

As a side note, our attorneys defended the printer from Lodz who refused to print promotional materials for an LGBT foundation, a case which was heavily discussed in the media. Although other printers in the same city were willing to print those materials, the LGBT foundation demanded that criminal proceedings be undertaken against that specific printer. What is more, the prosecution received the support of Poland’s ombudsman Adam Bodnar, who is now the Minister of Justice in Donald Tusk’s new government. Bodnar insisted that the police should prosecute a citizen for exercising his freedom of conscience!

And although in the misdemeanor criminal proceedings the courts at all levels found the printer guilty of discrimination, in the end, thanks to the Attorney General’s support, we brought the case to the Constitutional Tribunal, where the provision of the misdemeanor code under which the printer was prosecuted was declared unconstitutional. That is, not only was the printer finally acquitted, but no one else in Poland can now be prosecuted for refusing to produce promotional materials or to bake a cake for some ceremony celebrating a so-called “gay marriage,” as in that case we all know from the United States.

We have real economic freedom in Poland, in a way that is also respectful of an entrepreneur’s freedom of conscience.

You mentioned the assistance of the Attorney General; this was Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, right?

Yes, because that was the time when the posts of Attorney General and Minister of Justice had been reunited.

A description of Ordo Iuris’ activities would not be complete without saying a few words about your Institute’s activities in international organizations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the European Union. This seems very important to me.

Indeed, quite soon after we created the Ordo Iuris Institute, we realized that if we really wanted to defend human rights in their original form – in other words, human rights that are in line with natural law – we had to reach beyond Poland’s borders. Human rights are formulated and interpreted in international institutions, and this is also where the corresponding case law arises.

This is how we became the first Polish conservative organization with permanent consultative status at the UN. We also very quickly began to operate within the European Union’s institutions. From the outset, we also began to participate in proceedings held before the European Court of Human Rights. At the moment, there are almost 100 such cases in which the Strasbourg Court has accepted our expert reports and our opinions, referring to them many times.

Whether in the UN’s departments, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, or the European Union, our task is identical: to ensure that human rights remain true to their original wording. This is especially so at a time when there is an internal revolution going on in human rights, when new, fake human rights are being created in order to push out actual fundamental rights. This is because, after all, as for example in the name of fighting hate speech, freedom of speech is being eliminated. In the name of a reinterpreted right to privacy, the protection of life is no longer respected. Protection of the family and marriage is beginning to be undermined as well. So we continually offer reminders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was signed exactly 75 years ago as the expression of a global consensus.

As for the UN, for example, we are now in the process of developing a permanent presence for our representatives in New York. At present, no European conservative organization is represented on a permanent basis at the UN in New York, and yet today’s human rights doctrine is forged there, at the meetings of committees and subcommittees as well as the General Assembly. It is there that a very radical, ideological approach to education is being proposed, such as “gender transformative education.” It is there that very radical changes in human rights are being promoted through efforts to include the right to abortion under the purview of human rights. Finally, it is there that an attempt to subvert human freedom is going on in the name of the often highly misinterpreted Sustainable Development Goals.

It is therefore also where a conservative voice is needed. The American conservative voice can already be heard there thanks to the presence of American organizations, but Europe’s conservative voice has so far been silent within the UN’s bodies.

How many lawyers work at Ordo Iuris? How big is your organization, and how is your activity financed? I am asking you these questions because accusations have been made against you that you receive support from Russia. Those accusations have been proven wrong in court, but we can still hear these kinds of suggestions from some Left-wing media and politicians.

We categorically refuse to accept any public financial support, domestic or foreign, for a simple reason: a think tank such as Ordo Iuris must be independent. And that is why we have copied some American solutions for building actual independent entities funded by private donors.

After ten years, we already have a base of more than 20,000 donors, including several thousand members of our Circle of Friends who are regular donors supporting our Institute’s activities. At the moment, the Ordo Iuris Institute’s total team consists of about 45-50 permanent employees and just as many cooperating experts. These are mostly attorneys, university lecturers, doctors, and members of the Scientific Council who consult with us on the various expert reports we issue. And there is the Collegium Intermarium, which has links to the Ordo Iuris Institute – albeit with a completely separate set of professors and students. It has been operating for two years. It conducts postgraduate studies. It teaches ethics to teachers, and offers Classical Studies and a Master’s degree in law. It is slowly growing, building up its own academic community.

In view of the October 15 election victory of the Liberals and the Left, we naturally expect that the amount of our work will soon grow to become many times greater. Soon it will be necessary to combat attacks on life, family, freedom, and sovereignty at all times. Ahead of us is an effort to expose the radical Left’s strategy and the ideologues behind it.

Donald Tusk’s government will not find it easy to liberalize abortion in Poland

Besides, we are also observing what is happening in the European Union, which is why we are establishing a new project in the form of the Sovereignty College in order to resist attacks against our country’s sovereignty.  We have been writing analyses for a number of years now, on all stages of the reform of the European treaties that is currently underway. Last year we issued an extensive analysis on the Conference on the Future of Europe, and we already warned back then that changes in the treaty were coming. We showed exactly what could happen and what changes to the treaties would be suggested. And now that this process of revising the treaty has taken off, when the European Parliament voted last month on concrete proposals for changes that are now going to be pursued further, we must commit our efforts toward taking part in the discussions at the expert and societal levels.