At the beginning of January, after US President Donald Trump's social media accounts were censored and blocked, a debate has flared up on the actual protection of the freedom of speech of users of these media. Only then did many become aware of the dangerous tendency, however, visible much earlier in the case of adherents of many religions, whose opinions on moral issues or ethical assessments of the debated legal solutions (e.g. on the issue of abortion or euthanasia) were removed from social media accounts, and their authors were accused of breaking the ethical standards of these media. A careful observer might say: it starts with believers but ends with society as a whole. The measure of responsibility for the quality of social life is undoubtedly how we treat believers, also in the digital dimension.
At the beginning, it should be noted that the decision to remove entries from social media is not made – as in the case of traditional institutions, e.g. hospitals or research supporters – the „ethical councils” appointed for this purpose, gathering experts in a given area, but the decisions are made by the… owners of these media by delegated employees. This gives the impression of not so much an objective assessment, which is not justified by the casual message appearing on the page of a blocked media account, not presenting a professional explanation of the decision made, basing on explained ethical standards or legal issues, as subjective decision. Censors filtering various types of entries in this way arbitrarily judge the religious content itself, thus violating the freedom of religion and belief, which are the basis of the most important documents dealing with human rights, undeniable under any circumstances.
The assessment of the content published in social media is based not so much on the existing legal order in a given country (e.g. the jurisprudence of constitutional tribunals or courts), but on the internal policy of a given company, which has its ideological and economic preferences promoted as part of its activities. And such cases come from virtually all religious denominations, putting into question real religious freedom in the digital space.
Recent cases of online discrimination
In Poland, not only more and more phenomena of this digital censorship, blocking accounts or posts have appeared in recent times, but also many restrictions can be observed in other areas, e.g. economic, which did not seem to apply to Poland, as in the case of Barclays banks reaction to Core Issues Trust (CIT), British Christian organization helping to restore gender identity, which bank closed the CIT account due to this activity. In Poland, an example may also be discrimination against Christians for their views expressed in social media. In November 2020, the fitness club in Swarzędz refused to continue using the services offered by the company to a client who expressed her own opinion on a private social profile, opposing the actions of the Women's Strike after the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal of October 22 this year and condemning acts of vandalism and devastation of places of worship. On the other hand, in the same year, one of the media refused to remove an offending religious people photo, in which a young man urinates on the cross while standing on an altar in a church. Despite the fact that a dozen or so people reported to the portal administrator with a request to remove the photo, the answer was negative (the answer from the portal managers was: „this photo does not violate Facebook's community standards”). Of course, a question arises – what are the standards of these media. Do the ethical principles applied by administrators allow insults without limits to some and not others?
All these cases of censorship against religious content and unequal treatment are undoubtedly a manifestation of a violation of the right to religious freedom, but also of biased and ideological censorship. Similar criteria do not apply to other content (e.g. conducive to the sexualization of children, calls for attacks on Catholic churches as was the case in Poland in October 2020, posting offensive graphics, recordings of attacks on temples, mockery and parody of Christian liturgies, etc.), which are allowed to function to an incomparably greater degree, arguing it with the freedom of speech.
In the face of this asymmetry in treatment (allowing ridicule of religion and restrictions on defending public morality, even though it is sanctioned in legal systems), it seems that the motivation of this censorship is dictated by the influence of certain stereotypes towards religion, treated as a source of aggression and prejudice (which is emphasized by the so-called new atheism), although research indicates the exact opposite phenomenon, where religiosity helps in socially beneficial behavior of people. We are not dealing here with the issue of the limits of widely discussed in literature freedom of speech, because blocked religious statements concern the moral evaluation of certain phenomena and expressing one's own identity (e.g. by quoting the holy books of a given religious tradition, such as the Bible or the Koran). Rather, it seems that such ideological censorship wishes to challenge certain social processes, as today religion has become a way of defining identity when secular ideas have proved ineffective. Perhaps we should see here the reason for the intensification of this censorship in social media, which actually lower or weaken the freedom of religion, and thus the right to manifest one's religious views.
The right to religious freedom translates into the right to information, participation in celebrations and their transmission: certainly the role of the state, which organizes the life of citizens in a manner respecting fundamental rights, appears here with force when the arbitrary decisions of the administrators of these media gag the possibility of expressing religious truths. It can take the form not always so visible as blocking accounts, but also through procedures that weaken the availability of posts by using algorithms that marginalize the message, which block displaying of content and reaching certain groups of recipients. Metaphorically speaking, this approach is similar to muting the microphone (or turning it off), giving the impression that you can say or write anything, but unfortunately the microphone does not work, it has been disconnected from the power supply…
Victims of cyber-violence based on religion
How to respond in such situations when content expressing the held views is blocked? It is certainly worth encouraging the adoption of available legal solutions in a given country in order to defend the right to freedom of speech, but from a broader perspective, it is worth realizing the need to promote – at the plane of various levels of education – an attitude of courage to express one's opinion in unpopular situations. Such resilience, the ability to resist and defend one's own identity, will be of benefit not only to a particular religious group, but to the entire society, which becomes the beneficiary of the freedom of expression of citizens of different values and belonging to different religions.
The multitude of voices, not disturbed by censorship and account blocking, contributes to a better intellectual culture and generates social peace, built not at the cost of depriving identity, but on inclusion and dialogue. It is a longer path that requires mutual listening and sensitivity, but by far the best in the further perspective.
fr. dr hab. Piotr Roszak, NCU prof.
Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń
Blicharz G. (red.), Freedom of Speech. A Comparative Law Perspective, Wydawnictwo IWS, Warszawa 2019.
Christian ministry has bank accounts closed following harassment campaign (24 July 2020), https://christianconcern.com/news/christian-ministry-harassed-and-facing-bank-account-closure/ [data dostępu: 5.02.2021].
Juergensmeyer M., Paradoks nacjonalizmu religijnego w czasach globalizacji (15 stycznia 2021), https://wszystkoconajwazniejsze.pl/prof-mark-juergensmeyer-paradoks-nacjonalizmu-religijnego-w-czasach-globalizacji/ [data dostępu: 5.02.2021].
Kącka K., Geneza i źródła wolności religijnej w europejskiej przestrzeni politycznej i prawnej, „Seminaire” 34 (2013), s. 155–174.
Kreft J., Władza algorytmów. U źródeł potęgi Google i Facebooka, Wydawnictwo UJ, Kraków 2019.
Krok D., Religious coping and well-being in middle adulthood: The mediational role of meaning in life, [w:] Subjective Well-Being: Psychological Predictors, Social In-fluences and Economical Aspects, red. A. Victoria, NOVA Science Publishers, New York 2015, s. 21–38.
Raport Laboratorium Wolności Religijnej, 2020.
Sobczak J., Gołda-Sobczak M., Wolność sumienia i wyznania jako prawo człowieka, „Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska” 1 (2012), s. 27–65.
Titus C.S., Resilience and the Virtue of Fortitude: Aquinas in Dialogue with the Psychosocial Sciences, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington 2006.
 See: J. Sobczak, M. Gołda-Sobczak, Wolność sumienia i wyznania jako prawo człowieka, Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska 1(2012), p. 27-65. See also: K. Kącka, Geneza i źródła wolności religijnej w europejskiej przestrzeni politycznej i prawnej, Seminaire 34(2013), p. 155-174.
See: LoRF report 2020.
 See: D. Krok, Religious coping and well-being in middle adulthood: The mediational role of meaning in life, in: Subjective Well-Being: Psychological Predictors, Social In-fluences and Economical Aspects, A. Victoria (ed.), NOVA Science Publishers, New York, 2015, p. 21-38.
 See: G. Blicharz (ed.), Freedom of Speech. A Comparative Law Perspective, The Institute of Justice Press, Warsaw 2019.
 Valuable analyzes in this regard presents: Jan Kreft, Władza algorytmów. U źródeł potęgi Google i Facebooka, publ. JU Cracow 2019.
 More about resilience – see: C.S. Titus, Resilience and the Virtue of Fortitude: Aquinas in Dialogue with the Psychosocial Sciences, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington 2006.