Denmark has passed a new law banning “inappropriate treatment” of religious books, a move critics say is little more than a statute that punishes people for blasphemy.
The measure aims to crack down on public burning of the Quran, which some officials say has angered Muslims and led to security issues. The bill passed the Folketing, the Danish parliament, on a vote of 94-77 in December.
It’s unclear how the law will be interpreted. The measure makes it illegal “to inappropriately treat, publicly or with the intention of dissemination in a wider circle, a writing with significant religious significance for a religious community or an object that appears as such.”
Defenders of the law insist that criticism of religion is still permitted, and they note that the new law contains an exception for works of art where a “minor part” offends religion.
But opponents argued that the law is a blow to free speech.
Inger Støjberg of the Denmark Democrats, a right-wing party, charged, “A restriction of freedom of expression is wrong in a modern and enlightened society like the Danish one.”
Humanists UK criticized the move. The organization noted that Denmark abolished its laws punishing blasphemy six years ago but now appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
“Human rights law applies to people,” said Kathy Riddick, the group’s director of public affairs and policy. “Books, venerated objects, and symbols, much like flags, are not protected by the right to freedom of religion or belief. There is no basis to protect venerated objects under international law. Humanists UK has a long history of campaigning for the abolition of blasphemy laws — at home and abroad. We will continue to do so.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also objected to the new law.
“USCIRF condemns the burning of religious texts or other objects of religious importance — such as the Qur’an, the Bible, the Torah, the Vedas, and the Tripitaka (Pali Canon) — as deeply uncivil and disrespectful,” said USCIRF Commissioner David Curry. “Criminalizing blasphemy is the wrong approach and not effective in addressing either security concerns or the underlying hatred experienced by religious communities. This amendment will only serve to propagate harmful stereotypes that could worsen the situation of religious minorities in Denmark.”