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Denmark becomes fifth European country to abolish ‘blasphemy’ laws since 2015

Christiansborg Palace, the Danish Parliament. Image via Flickr/Xavi.

Today, the Folketing (Danish Parliament) voted overwhelmingly to abolish its law making ‘blasphemy’ a criminal offence. Humanists UK, which is part of the End Blasphemy Laws coalition, has welcomed this vote, which has made Denmark the fifth country in Europe to abolish such restrictions on free speech in recent years.

Today’s vote, which was supported by parties from across the political spectrum, will remove section 140 from Denmark’s penal code – under which a person could receive up to four months in prison or be fined for publicly ridiculing religious belief or worship. There had been growing calls for a vote on this issue in Denmark since 2005, when the Muhammad cartoon crisis brought ‘blasphemy’ laws to the forefront of public debate. In 2017 these laws were used to prosecute a man accused of burning a religious text on his property.

The debate leading up to the vote considered two lines of argument: whether the law was an illegitimate impediment to free speech and whether abolishing it would increase the risk of terrorism. The later argument was eventually dismissed as illogical.

Since 2015, Norway, Iceland, Malta and the Alsace-Moselle region of France (the only part to have such a law) have also abolished ‘blasphemy’ laws, showing the success of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign. However, disappointingly, New Zealand recently rejected by one vote a similar proposal to repeal its law – although the Government, which opposed the move, is still committed to repeal, just more slowly. Much more seriously, there are still 13 countries – all Islamic states – where such laws carry the death penalty.

Commenting on today’s vote, Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy of Humanists UK stated, ‘We wish to extend our warmest congratulations to Denmark. The vote today is indicative of a growing trend across Europe, where citizens will no longer stand for these anachronistic laws on religion that are at odds with their democratic and open values. We urge countries that still have such laws to also now commit to repeal.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read more about the End Blasphemy Laws coalition: http://end-blasphemy-laws.org/

Read more about the BHA’s work on freedom of religion and belief: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/freedom-of-religion-and-belief/  

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign to end blasphemy laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/

At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work helps people be happier and more fulfilled, and by bringing non-religious people together we help them develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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