Read the public hearing (in danish)
Proposal L133: Arguments against its implementation
- Restricts freedom of expression: The proposal restricts freedom of expression, as it can be used to punish symbolic expressions critical of religions. This is contrary to the principle of freedom of expression, which is a central pillar of a democratic society and where the freedoms of religion and expression should be seen as two sides of the same coin. While the burning of holy books is deeply disrespectful and offensive to religious believers, religious intolerance should be countered through dialogue, inter-faith initiatives and education, not criminal law sanctions.
- Reverses seven decades of robust protection free expression: Denmark has traditionally supported and protected freedom of expression, including the right to criticize religion and express political views. In 2017 Denmark repealed its criminal prohibition against blasphemy. The proposal would reverse seven decades of robust and uninhibited debate about religion, since no one has been convicted of blasphemy since 1946. Denmark´s reintroduction of a de facto blasphemy ban also sets it apart from other open democracies that have abolished blasphemy bans in the past decade including the Netherlands, Ireland, Malta, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada.
- Criminalizes art and criticism: Artists and political activists could be criminalized for expressing their art or political views if their work contains elements that could be perceived as “improper treatment.” This could silence marginalized and persecuted groups’ opportunity to speak out against religiously authoritarian regimes or practices, while empowering the very states that dissidents and activists have fled from.
- Vague definition of “improper treatment” and “Objects of Significant Religious Significance to a Religious Community” The proposal contains a vague and subjective definition of the concept of “improper treatment” and “objects of significant religious significance”. This is a cause for concern, as it creates uncertainty about what specifically constitutes a violation under the law and could lead to a chilling effect on speech.
- Draconian punishment: The bill locates the criminal prohibition in the chapter of the Criminal Code on treason and threats to national security with punishment of up to 2 years in prison. The specific provision to which the bill is an amendment, punishes the insults of foreign nations but has not resulted in convictions since 1936, when a person was convicted for desecrating the flag of the Soviet Union.
- Ignores international obligations: The proposal fails to take into account Denmark’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN Human Rights Committee has affirmed that laws criminalizing blasphemy and religious offense are incompatible with both the right to freedom of expression in Article 19 and the right to freedom of religion and belief in Article 18 of the ICCPR. Moreover, the Rabat Plan of Action at paragraph 25 emphatically states, “States that have blasphemy laws should repeal them, as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, and healthy dialogue and debate about religion”. Several reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief explicitly concludes that laws punishing blasphemy and religious offense are incompatible with the Covenant. Denmark has given official support to this interpretation in statements by government ministers, UN Ambassadors and by signing the 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
- Empowers authoritarian and religiously authoritarian states In 2011, US efforts at the Human Rights Council led to the adoption of a landmark resolutionmeant to once and for all end decade-long efforts by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at the United Nations to criminalize blasphemy under international human rights law. The resolution stressed the primary importance of counterspeech and education as the first line of defense against the very real phenomenon of religious intolerance and negative stereotyping. More importantly, it emphasized that human rights law protects people, not religions or ideologies. While the resolution “condemned” advocacy of incitement to hatred, it only called on the criminalization of “incitement to imminent violencebased on religion or belief.” The requirement of incitement to imminent violence stresses that restrictions on free expression are only legitimate when protecting physical human beings, not abstract religious ideas, from serious real-world harm. The Danish bill undermines the efforts by democracies to strengthen and uphold religious freedom and freedom of expression in international human rights norms, and empowers and emboldens authoritarian states that can use the Danish bill to legitimize oppression of religious minorities, dissidents and non-believers.