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Denmark flagDuring the current session of the UN Human Rights Council, Denmark has announced that, after conducting a review on the matter, it would be keeping its anti-blasphemy.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has expressed surprise and disappointment at both the decision itself, and the “backwards logic” used to justify it.

During an ‘interactive dialogue’ with the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, the Danish Head of Section of the Human Rights Department in Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vanessa Vega Saenz, spoke in support of the Special Rapporteur’s most recent report – in which he recommended that all countries who have anti-blasphemy laws should repeal them – but reported that Denmark was committed to keeping the anti-blasphemy clause in its penal code.

Ms Vega Saenz explained that a group of experts under the Ministry of Justice had been charged by the Danish Parliament to look into the legal and practical implications of a potential repeal of their anti-blasphemy clause and found that despite the clause not having been invoked in court since the 1970’s, it is “legally important” in that it gives the state the possibility to stop people burning bibles and Korans, and to punish those who do.

The decision to maintain the law, Ms Vega Saenz argued, was based on a number of factors, including the importance one attaches to free expression in relation to protecting religious feelings, protecting minorities and sustaining societal order.

IHEU’s head of delegation, Elizabeth O’Casey, said:

“To defend a highly flawed law, clearly in conflict with freedom of expression, on the the basis that it is currently unused, but may be useful in the future to suppress hypothetical symbolic acts, even though there are already other laws in place that criminalise genuine incitement to hatred or violence, is backwards logic, and especially disappointing in the current climate of terrorist actions against expression on religion. European Union guidelines from the External Action Service are very clear when it comes to ‘blasphemy’ laws outside the EU and the necessity of free expression, including contesting and “ridiculing” belief, and it’s a great pity that states like Denmark continue to undermine these positive principles at home.”

During the interactive dialogue, a number of states explicitly spoke out against states maintaining blasphemy laws. Belgium, Norway and the United States all urged those states who still had anti-blasphemy legislation to repeal it, whilst Albania argued that anti-blasphemy laws often strengthened the culture of silence, further empowering intolerance. New Zealand said it would consider repealing its law in light of the Special Rapporteur’s report.

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has recommended a number of times that in order to uphold human rights, all states with anti-blasphemy laws should repeal them.

Last year, the European Union published guidelines on protecting freedom of religion or belief abroad. The guidelines note that the “right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in relevant international standards, does not include the right to have a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule”.

When Elizabeth O’Casey, asked the Special Rapporteur about Denmark’s announcement, he said he was surprised, and emphasised the need for EU states to live up to the EU’s strong guidelines on freedom of religion or belief, in order to give them legitimacy abroad. The Special Rapporteur promised to raise the issue with Denmark when he visited the country later this year.

There are currently 68 countries in the world with legal restrictions against blasphemy; in six of those, the punishment for the specific crime of blasphemy is death. Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights together determine the impermissibility of anti-blasphemy legislation under international.

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3 Responses to Denmark announces it will keep its blasphemy law 

  1. Anonymous says:

    Shame on a developed country like Denmark. On one hand free satire (cartoons) on other religions are allowed but blasphemy law is still there. It isn’t hypocritical?

  2. The concept of blasphemy makes no sense to me. Consider a simple honest discussion between two persons, one a Christian believer and the other Jewish. The Christian might define God as a Trinity composed of three persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That would be considered blasphemy to the Jew. The Jew might define God as a single deity composed of one person: Yahweh. That would be blasphemy to the Christian.

    So there cannot be a meaningful definition of blasphemy unless one religion is regarded as wholly true.

  3. Sam Burns says:

    I am shocked that Denmark of all places – yes, Denmark – has dealt with this incident as they would in an oppressive, theocratic nation! Unbelievable.

    This crap will be remembered and be used as an excuse to discriminate on countless immigrants. Shame on you for proving the right-wing conspiracy theorists correct!

    I consider myself a proud liberal with an open mind, and yet I am absolutely repulsed like never before by something which should never have occurred in a supposedly-free, staunchly-western society. How dare you?!

    Wow. Just wow!

    Rise up native citizens and ensure this slap in the face to freedom of expression from a religion so commonly-associated with theocratic tyranny and oppression never happens again!

    Rise up please. A line has been crossed which should have never been crossed.

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