“Religion Should Not Dictate Speech”: Denmark Abolishes 334-Year-Old Blasphemy Law
On 2 June 2017, the Danish Parliament voted to scrap the country’s blasphemy law that punishes public insults of a religion.
The law that the politicians abolished was introduced in the year 1683 and was enshrined in Clause 140 of the Danish penal code. It said: “Any person who, in public, ridicules or insults the dogmas or worship of any lawfully existing religious community in this country shall be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding four months.”
Though the law is over three centuries old, it has only been applied in a handful of cases in Denmark’s modern history. But remarks and acts that threaten or demean certain groups of people because of their religious beliefs will still be punishable.
The decriminalising of “blasphemy” in Denmark adds to the country’s reputation of being among the most secular and egalitarian nations on earth.
“There should be no special law to protect religions against free expressions”
Denmark’s blasphemy law was used only in a few cases in the past 80 years – one of them involved two people being fined for conducting a baptism during a masked ball and another involved two public radio officials convicted for broadcasting a song about a woman’s sexuality and her refusal of any divine moral figure. Many other cases were filed but charges were dropped straightaway.
A major highlight of the law’s record was in 2015 when a Danish man was charged with blasphemy after he posted a video of himself burning the Quran. The 42-year-old, who has not been named, burnt Islam’s holy book in a four-minute clip called “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns”.
According to The Independent, this man faced up to four months in prison after prosecutors were alerted to the footage, which was posted to a Facebook group called “Yes to freedom – no to Islam” in December 2015.
All charges against him will now be dropped.
Lawmakers in favour of scrapping the 17th century law said they “do not believe that there should be special rules protecting religions against expressions”.
“Religion should not dictate what is allowed and what is forbidden to say publicly,” Bruno Jerup, an MP who proposed to repeal the law, was quoted as saying by Jyllands-Posten. “It gives religion a totally unfair priority in society,” he said.