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Denmark: Blasphemy Law Repealed

(July 6, 2017) On June 8, 2017, the Danish Parliament repealed the blasphemy provision in the Danish Penal Code. The repeal took effect on the day after publication in the Lovtidende (Danish official gazette), i.e., on June 10, 2017.  (Lov om ændring af straffeloven, LOV nr 675 af 08/06/2017 [Law on Amending the Penal Code, Law No. 675 of June 8, 2017], RETSINFORMATION.) Before its repeal, article 140 of the Penal Code read: “[a]ny person who, in public, ridicules or insults the doctrines or worship of any lawfully existing religious community in this country shall be liable to a fine or to imprisonment not exceeding four months.” (§ 140 Straffeloven, Lovbekendtgørelse [LBK] nr 1052 af 04/07/2016 [Penal Code, Law Announcement Act No. 1052 of July 4, 2016], RETSINFORMATION.)

Background

The blasphemy provision has been under repeal discussions since the mid-1970s; in a response to the latest attempt to repeal it in 2015, the Danish Justice Ministry stated that abolishment of the provision would legalize the burning of holy texts such as the Bible or the Quran, actions the Ministry wanted to prevent. (Press Release, Justitsminsteriet [Ministry of Justice], Straffelovrådets udtalelse om de juridiske konsekvenser af en ophævelse af straffelovens § 140 om blasfemi [Council for Penal Legal Affairs’ Report on the Legal Consequences of a Repeal of Penal Code § 140 on Blasphemy ] (Feb. 26, 2015); see also Denmark, in BLASPHEMY AND RELATED LAWS IN SELECTED JURISDICTIONS, Law  Library of Congress website (Jan. 2017).)

In a response to a written question on the blasphemy provision from a Member of Parliament sent to the Justice Ministry during the 2017 legislative session, the Ministry explained that the original motivation behind the blasphemy regulation was to protect religious freedom and to ensure that the public debate on religion was conducted in a civil manner. (Justitsminsteriet, Retsudvalget 2016-17 L 170 endeligt svar på spørgsmål 11 Offentligt [Council for Legal Affairs 2016-17 L170 Response to Question 11, Public], Folketinget [Danish parliament] website.) The drafters of the bill argued that the provision was out of date and that “there should not be special regulations that protect religions against [free] speech.” (L 170 Forslag til lov om ændring af straffeloven [L 170 Proposal for Law on Amending the Penal Code].) The proposal passed with 75 votes in favor of abolishing the provision and 27 against. (Id.)

Blasphemy Incidents

The most recent case of a person being charged with blasphemy in Denmark was that involving a man who burned a Quran and posted a video of it on Facebook in 2015; the trial was set to take place in June of 2017 but was dropped following the repeal of the blasphemy law. (Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Danish Man Who Burned Quran Is Prosecuted for Blasphemy (June 23, 2017), NEW YORK TIMES; Folketinget afskaffer blasfemi-paragraffen [Danish Parliament Repeals Blasphemy Provision] DR (June 2, 2017).) The National Prosecutor decided not to prosecute in a 2005 case of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten. (Rigsadvokatens afgørelse af 15 marts 2006, J.nr. RA-2006-41-0151 [National Prosecutor Decision of March 15, 2005], Folketinget website.)