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If Jesus is so ubiquitous, why He cannot be in a Lithuanian advertisement?

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Illustrative picture

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Two pretty, seemingly love-smitten pensive youths, with a semi-naked long-haired guy wearing a pair of  sleek jeans and a gal in a white dress leaning towards the pal…What is wrong about the image in an advertisement?

Nothing, right? If not for their clear allusion to Jesus and St. Mary, the Mother of the son of God.

The advertisement campaign of clothes by Lithuanian designer Robert Kalinkin, which was run in the fall of 2012, featured not only the lovey-dovey couple, but also the all-telling captions underneath: «Jesus, what trousers!», «Dear Mary, what a dress!», and «Jesus and Mary, what are you wearing!?»

Amid the backlash from the people of faith, Lithuania‘s State Non-Food Products Inspectorate imposed a fine on the advertisers and a Lithuanian court ruled that the ads ran counter to public morals and were offensive to the predominantly Catholics‘ feelings.

Unabashed, the clothes designer and his lawyers lodged in a complaint over the penalty against the state of Lithuania in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and heaved a huge sigh of relief this week: the court ruled on Tuesday, January 30, that Lithuania «unjustifiably» restricted the clothing advertising campaign that used the above depicted models and ran the captions.

According to the Strasbourg court, Lithuania’s authorities «gave absolute primacy to protecting the feelings of religious people, without adequately taking into account the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression».

The ECHR ruled the advertisements did not appear to be «gratuitously offensive or profane», nor do they incite hatred on the grounds of religious belief or attack a religion in an «unwarranted or abusive manner».

«The authorities considered that the advertisements were contrary to public morals because they had used religious symbols ‘for superficial purposes’, had ‘distort(ed) (their) main purpose’ and had been ‘inappropriate’ . In the Court’s view, such statements were declarative and vague, and did not sufficiently explain why the reference to religious symbols in the advertisements was offensive, other than for the very fact that it had been done for non-religious purposes,» the court said.

«In the Court’s view, it cannot be assumed that everyone who has indicated that he or she belongs to the Christian faith would necessarily consider the advertisements offensive, and the Government has not provided any evidence to the contrary. Nonetheless, even assuming that the majority of the Lithuanian population were indeed to find the advertisements offensive, the Court reiterates that it would be incompatible with the underlying values of the Convention if the exercise of Convention rights by a minority group were made conditional on its being accepted by the majority,» it said.

Kalinkin welcomed the court’s judgment, emphasising that the ads were not intended to offend the faithful.

«The decision is favourable and we welcome it, but neither then, nor now do I want to ridicule or offend people who worship one or another religion,» the designer told Lithuanian media on Tuesday, January 30.

«You just can’t punish people because an ad induces some feelings for some people,» he emphasised.

He admitted in an interview to the website www.15min.lt that he was not «seething» with «jubilant» emotions upon hearing the favourable verdict.

«We were convinced that we will come victorious in the end. In Lithuania, the entire situation was being evaluated in a very bias way – through the Christian religion and the feelings of the people of the faith,» he accentuated.

In his words, there are quite a few lawsuits related to religion and the symbols of one or another faith.

«Any autocracy, in religion, too, makes harm. If the state rules in favour of one religion, then how the other people, who belong to other creeds, have to feel in the state?» Kalinkinas asked rhetorically.

Throughout the interview, he would profusely use the word «ridiculous» when describing what happened to him.

«The brouhaha that we went through following the release of the advertisement was blown out of proportions – a mountain out of a molehill was made,» the noted. «Just because a man in an advertisement resembles Jesus, who is being worshipped by part of the people.»

Lithuania’s Human Right Monitoring Institute has helped the embattled fashion designer with legal consultations and its lawyer, Karolis Liutkevičius, starkly defended the designer throughout.

«Animproper and paradoxical interpretation of Law on Advertisement unjustifiably limits artists’ and businessmen’s freedom of self-expression. There was no a single image in Kalinkin’s clothes advertising that despises and defiles religion, the clergy or the people of faith,» Liutkevičius underscored in 2012.

Echoing, DovilėŠakalienė, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and a staunch human rights activist, also said it was «paradoxical» that all the Lithuanian courts that have taken on the designer case omitted the fact that not a single piece of the Lithuanian legislation prohibits using religious symbols in advertisements. Furthermore, the courts wrongly ruled that the whole Lithuanian society is Roman Catholic and supports its values,» the legislator is saying as quoted.

According to the last population census in 2011, 77 per cent of people in Lithuania identify themselves as Roman Catholics and another 4 per cent are Orthodox. However, only 7-8 per cent sits in the pews on the weekends.

However, experts agree that the lawsuit has brought up some acute questions regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religions. Some experts caution that the state, having sided with the Lithuanian Catholic Church in the designer lawsuit, has applied ambiguous standards.

«Would the state vehemently defend a local Muslim community if the symbols of the faith were used improperly,» asked rhetorically a commentator under one of many stories on the Strasbourg court ruling.

Usually, Lithuanian institutions engage the Catholic Church, not other confessions to have a say on new acts of legislation and et cetera.

Lawyer Zigmas Garalevičius who represents the Lithuanian Conference of Bishops told Lithuanian media that the Strasbourg decision will require better argumentation in Lithuania for the ban on the use of religious symbols.

«Institutions will have to use better articulation of why it is important in Lithuania and why people are unhappy,» said the lawyer.

In his words, the outcome of the case does not mean that «religious symbols will be allowed in any context.»

Meanwhile, Lithuanian State Consumer Rights Protection Authority says it will take into consideration the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

«Of course, after receipt of the ruling we will analyse it and prepare conclusions to be used in practice,» Marekas Mociulskis, the head of the agency’s Department of Economic Interests, said.

Approached by BNN for a comment, Audronė Nugaraitė, media professor at Kaunas Magnus University, said it is not the first time in Lithuania when use of religious symbols leads to a scandal.

«I believe that alternative, in using religious symbols, too, has to be there. The question how it is done: ethically, not offending the religious people or in a clumsy and offensive fashion,» she said.

Pressed to answer in what category Kalinkin’s advertisement falls, the expert, who is also a member of Lithuania’s Advertising Ethics Arbitration, said that the bottom line is that religious symbols can be used in advertising, but that has to be done in a very though-out way and aesthetically.

Meanwhile, Kalinkin, the designer, wisecracks: «If Jesus is so ubiquitous, so why he cannot appear in an advertisement then?»

Ref: 111.111.111.5586


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