Laughter as a reservation of conscience

Some time ago the Church of Laughter Ecclesia Risorum was founded in Prague. Its avowed aim is to allow smiling on ID cards. This is forbidden by current legislation.

Zralá žena s úsměvem
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The law requires the citizen to have a neutral expression and a closed mouth. Is this restriction necessary? What other requirements can the state have for official likeness? When can an exception be made and on what grounds? How does an attorney advise the rule in question to break the rule?

The person depicted may not smile or laugh. He or she must also be without a headdress in the photograph, for example, unless he or she is using it for medical or religious reasons.

This exception was used a few years ago by a follower of the Church of Pastoralism, Luke the New. His fellow believers believe that the universe was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So he put a colander on his head, and Brno officials actually produced a temporary document. Only later did the ministry get involved and, since the Pastarafians are not a registered church in the Czech Republic, it banned the activist from wearing the colander on his head.

Pastoralism originated as a criticism of the teaching of the evolutionary theory of the origin of the world in American schools. The new Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh project, however, takes a slightly different route. According to the authors, it is meant to point out the absurdity of “state-sanctioned neutral expression on personal documents.” It has been endorsed by cultural and social figures such as world-famous jazzman Rudy Link, actresses Ester Geisler and Chantal Poullain.

From a factual point of view, there is really no reason for the people in the photographs to frown. Digital sensors don’t fool it, and so neither can arguments against terrorism or unauthorised border crossings be made. One can therefore reason that if we allow religious exemptions for headgear, we should also allow it for smiling.

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Indeed, the Constitutional Court recognized some time ago that the so-called conscientious objection can be applied not only for religious reasons, but also for secular reasons. It is therefore apparently not necessary to play church. As a lawyer, I would recommend that it is assumed implicitly that conscientious objection can be recognised in a particular case without this possibility being expressly provided for by law or the Constitution.

However, in the rule of law, we cannot allow unbounded exceptions to the general rules. That would be the end of legal certainty. On the contrary, people are equal before the law, as even the most powerful politicians in our state ‘recognise’.

That is why the Constitutional Court has come up with a certain test for the application of conscientious objection, i.e. the prerequisites of the exception in question. Among other things, the Constitutional Court requires consistency and persuasiveness of the complainant’s allegations. It is difficult to believe, for example, that someone cannot have his children vaccinated for religious reasons when he had never been to church in his life until last Sunday. The societal implications are also relevant, that is, the courts are dealing with a classic question: What if everyone did this? Because that would completely collapse the rule.

So I think the Church of Laughter should reflect on this and actually try to stretch its energies in perhaps a slightly different direction. The best thing would be for it to try to gain political influence and try to get the unpleasant obligation changed by legislation. That is, after all, the principle of democracy, where the general rules are determined by legislators and decrees, not by courts and individuals.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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