Neringa Mikalauskienė, author of the fairy tale collection “Amber Heart,” won her first battle – the courts will now have to re-examine whether fairy tales with homosexual characters can be considered harmful to minors, or whether they simply promote tolerance for gay people.
The Supreme Court of Lithuania quashed the judgments of the Vilnius District Court and the Vilnius Regional Court, returning the case for retrial.
A target of censorship
The case that eventually wound up in the Supreme Court dates all the way back to the beginning of 2014, when the publisher of “Amber Heart,” the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, ceased all publication and publicly denounced the collection of fairy tales as “biased homosexual propaganda.”
In a subsequent opinion, the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics concluded that the fairy tales were harmful to children up to the age of 14 and promoted a different understanding of what constitutes a family to the one enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.
After Mikalauskienė (who writes under the pen name Neringa Dangvydė) filed her claim in court, the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences came out saying that it had no obligation to distribute a book they themselves published, even though the Ministry of Culture had awarded a grant for publication. The university eventually relented and agreed to resume distribution, but gave the book an “N-14” (14 and above) rating.
Mikalauskienė said that the rating was offensive to her as a specialist in children’s literature and established that information about homosexuality could be considered harmful.
Lower courts: no discrimination
The Supreme Court held that it was in fact the duty of the lower courts to assess whether “Amber Heart” could harm minors or whether it merely promoted tolerance for different sexual orientations.
The three-judge panel noted that the lower courts’ refusal to examine certain claims of Mrs. Mikalauskienė, namely that distribution was suspended due to discrimination based on sexual orientation, was unreasonable.
The Court also took a dim view of the fact that the lower courts did not themselves examine the book’s contents, relied solely on the opinion of the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics, failed to assess whether the opinion was reasonable and whether such a restriction would be proportionate with respect to minors. The Court also held that the burden of proof regarding discrimination was unreasonably shifted to the writer.
“My book contains both happy heterosexual and happy homosexual families. Therefore it’s more about promoting tolerance for different sexual orientations and showing that responsibility, respect for one another and loyalty are values shared by all,” said Mikalauskienė when the decision was made public.
“When the appellate court re-examines the case, it will have to determine whether there were grounds for restricting the publication of “Amber Heart,” whether the restrictions chosen by the publisher were proportionate and whether the publisher, by suspending publication, did not discriminate against the author,” said attorney Akvilė Bužinskaitė, who helped draft the claim together with lawyers from NGOs.
The case will now be returned to the regional court, where the book’s ultimate fate will be decided.