Take the Smartasses to Court!

In December of 2009, along with a group of his schoolmates, Tomasz Chabinka submitted a petition to remove religious symbols from public classrooms. While commenting on their actions, Member of the European Parliament (and member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group), Ryszard Legutko, called them “spoiled smartasses.” The high school students then sued Legutko for a symbolic sum, asking that the payment be made to a charity organization and demanding a public apology in the press. The professor lost the defamation lawsuits in Krakow’s district and appellate courts. This February, Legutko’s representative moved for the case to be examined by the Supreme Court, which serves as the court of last resort in Poland’s judiciary. In this piece, Tomasz will provide his own commentary on the situation.

Our case has reached the Supreme Court. In a way, it’s ennobling. You don’t mess around with the Supreme Court, you can’t just have any case tried by one of the most important judicial bodies in the country. Silliness has no place in the halls of the Supreme Court; you can dismiss it without a second thought. Especially if you’re a Member of the European Parliament and a professor at a respected European university. Our case was thus promoted from the “unimportant” category – where we could still be insulted when a journalist called for comment and then quickly forgotten – to the “important” category – serious enough to be examined by the most respected justices in the land.

This doesn’t change the fact that we don’t think that there are legal grounds for having the case examined by the Supreme Court. The verdict handed down by the Appellate Court is valid and correct. We think we were slandered and deserve an apology. Moreover, we find no grounds for the claim that professor Legutko had a right to slander us. His academic title does not confer any such right on him. Neither does the fact that the majority of the Polish population, including the professor’s constituency, is Catholic. And contrary to the professor’s claims before the court, when submitting our petition to our school’s principal, we neither anticipated nor desired such reactions.

Three years have passed since December 2009 and a lot has changed in that time. First of all, the European Court of Human Rights handed down a verdict in the landmark Lautsi vs. Italy case which inspired us to write our petition and submit it to our school’s authorities. The ECHR ruled that there is no clear evidence to suggest that the presence of crucifixes in public classrooms infringes on the parents’ rights to bring up their children how they see fit. The heart of the issue we’re discussing – which boils down to condescending treatment of our initiative as well as the use of offensive speech inappropriate for someone with the professor’s public standing. It saddens us that there still are people who need a verdict from the Supreme Court just to comply with simple rules governing public debates.