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Humanists told the UN Human Rights Council this morning that “the state-church institution is fundamentally unfair” in Denmark as elsewhere, and called for the abolition of the Danish “blasphemy” law.

Lone Ree Milkær at the UN Human Rights Council

On behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the Danish Humanist Society, Humanistisk SamfundLone Ree Milkær spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council about freedom of religion or belief and blasphemy laws in Denmark.

Ms Milkær, president of the Danish Humanist Society, spoke during a review of Denmark’s human rights record, and sought to highlight problems in the country in terms of its established Church, its unequal treatment of different belief groups and the anti-blasphemy law it maintains on its books.

On behalf of the IHEU and Danish Humanist Society, Ms Milkær called on the Danish government to “ensure equal rights for all life stance organisations […] In an increasingly diverse country, amongst other things due to the relatively large number of refugees as mentioned in the review, there is a need to broaden the concept of ‘danishness’ so as to include all citizens of all religions and beliefs.”

End Blasphemy Laws campaignIHEU and the Danish Humanist Society are among the partners in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, which was co-founded by IHEU in 2015.

About her opportunity to speak at the UN, she said, “It’s very important for an organisation such as the Danish Humanist Society to be able to voice our concerns about freedom of religion and belief in Denmark on behalf of the IHEU. Especially regarding the state church and the inequality that it represents, and the deep concern on an international level regarding the danish blasphemy-law – something that is not highlighted often.”

Her statement follows in full below:


Oral statement
International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 32nd Session (13th June – 1st July 2016)
UPR: Denmark
Lone Ree Milkaer

I deliver this statement on behalf of the IHEU and the Danish Humanist Society. We share the concern of a number of states in the report presented today concerning the increase in discrimination of minorities.

We would like to emphasize the interpretation of freedom of religion and belief. During a recent visit the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, emphasized the need for broadening the understanding of the term ’belief’ in both Danish society and legislation, so as to align it with international human rights law.

Firstly, the term ‘belief’ needs to in incorporate identity-shaping convictions beyond traditional forms of monotheistic faith and worship. As stated by Professor Bielefeldt the existing system is obviously non-egalitarian. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee have developed a jurisdiction that understands freedom of religion or belief more broadly[1].

Secondly the state-church institution is fundamentally unfair and privileges one belief group over others.

We call on the Danish government to ensure equal rights for all life stance organisations – religious and non-religious. In an increasingly diverse country, amongst other things due to the relatively large number of refugees as mentioned in the review, there is a need to broaden the concept of ‘danishness’ so as to include all citizens of all religions and beliefs.

Finally, and crucially, on behalf of the international humanist community, we call for the abolition of the Danish Blasphemy-law[2] . Denmark has an international responsibility to be at the forefront in promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression, especially concerning the freedom of religion and belief since the law, among other things, legitimises persecution of minorities. Other articles in the penal code[3] clearly prevents hate-speech.

Notes 

[1] e.g. See General Comment 22 from UN Human Rights Committee

[2] article 140 in the Penal Code

[3] i.e. article 266b of the Penal Code concerning Hate Speech

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