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Religious Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Freedom of religious belief and exercise for both individuals and institutions has been foundational to every free government in the Western legal tradition. While religious freedom shines as a guiding principle in the European and American legal orders, the Western world has in recent years become a legal battleground over certain aspects of religious freedom. The debate over the meaning and scope of religious freedom has attracted academics, litigators, judges, and legislators, many of whom seek to advance conflicting visions of religious liberty. Within the European context, the Centre for Law and Religious Freedom has been established as an academic centre within Jagiellonian University. The Centre’s mission is to study and protect the free expression of all faiths. Pluralism and methodological rigor will permeate the Centre’s study of comparative approaches to religious freedom, drawing on the experience and best traditions of various Western legal orders.

This activity will be rooted in a historically informed understanding of the freedoms of religion and speech. Indeed, the history and tradition of Western law has been marked by religious speakers who, acting on conscience, opened the way to speech protections for all. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion remain two distinct freedoms. Freedom of speech is broad, covering a wide variety of human activity, but focused on external expression. By contrast, freedom of religion is both narrower and more profound because it protects both our internal life—what has been called the forum internum—and its external expression in word and deed. In the Centre’s research and clinical activity we seek to engage both freedoms.

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Why in Kraków

The need to protect religious freedom for all is a matter that is particularly well understood in Poland, which has both a long tradition of accommodating different religions and a history of suppression of religious freedom, particularly during periods of occupation. We see this exemplified not only in Poland’s tolerance towards Protestant denominations reflected by issuing the first European act of tolerance (1573), but also in its openness to Judaism, which led to a long period when Poland was called the Paradisus Judaeorum.

From its origins, Poland has fostered ties with other nations and has prioritized international law, religious tolerance, and equality between pagan and Christian states. Polish and Kraków jurists, such as Magister Vincentius (12th–13th c.), Stanisław of Skarbimierz and Paweł Włodkowic (14th and 15th c.), preceded Francisco de Vitoria’s revolutionary approaches to human rights. To solve the then global issue of relations between the Christian and pagan worlds, they postulated the possibility of peaceful coexistence based on respect for each other's rights—a vision ultimately rooted in a recognition of universal human dignity. Poland’s history demonstrates that an attitude of respect makes it possible to persuade not by force, but by reason. This commitment is poignantly reflected in the motto of Jagiellonian University: plus ratio quam vis (Reason before Force).

Why the Centre

The Centre was instituted by Jagiellonian University in July 2023 and has been developed by the Department of Roman Law at Jagiellonian University in collaboration with the Religious Freedom Clinic at Harvard Law School, with the goal of building a research and advocacy centre focused on studying and promoting religious freedom on both sides of the Atlantic. Religion being an element of culture, and culture being the very glue of law, it is critical to cherish religious aspects of legal traditions – especially, one might say, in view of such different histories as European countries have had.

Collaborating Academic Institutions