Denmark’s blasphemy law is outdated and should be abolished, the church minister, Manu Sareen (R), argued in an op-ed for Politiken newspaper over the weekend.
The law makes it punishable by a fine and four-year prison sentence for “publicly mocking or deriding the teachings or worship of a legally-existing religious community in the country”.
The law has not been successfully used since 1946, however, when a couple were given a small fine for baptising a doll at a carnival.
Sareen argues that the law undermines democracy by contradicting free speech, and no longer serves any purpose.
“Free speech and human rights are far more important than the danger that someone might feel offended if their religion is subject to mockery and derision,” Sareen wrote, adding that the blasphemy law also privileges religious beliefs over other beliefs.
“No one would dream of, for example, making it punishable to call the Danish constitution a ‘pathetic little pamphlet’, even though it would be considered a mockery of all the people who believe in Danish democracy.”
Violates human rights
Sareen also argues that Denmark would be better able to live up to its international human rights commitments if it abolished the blasphemy law.
He points to a 2011 statement from the UN’s human rights committee that argued that Denmark's blasphemy laws violate article 19 of the UN convention on human rights.
“It’s hard to criticise the governments in Russia and Pakistan for their regular use of blasphemy laws when Denmark still has a similar law on the books,” Sareen wrote.
Jacob Mchangama, the director of legal affairs at the liberal think-tank Cepos, congratulated Sareen’s proposal, which he feels is very overdue.
“Free speech is a cornerstone of Danish democracy, and religious feelings should not be afforded any special protection but rather should be subject to precisely the same criticism, satire and mockery that are levelled at political and philosophical ideologies,” Mchangama told Politiken.
Aarhus bishop Kjeld Holm is not in favour of abolishing the law, however, as it would send the wrong signal.
“It would suggest that everything under the sun is equal and that we can say whatever we like without there being any consequences,” Holm told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.