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USCIRF Denounces Denmark’s Blasphemy Amendment

USCIRF Denounces Denmark’s Amendment Criminalizing Blasphemy

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is troubled by Denmark’s passage of an amendment to its Penal Code criminalizing “inappropriate treatment of a text that has a significant religious importance to a recognized religious community, or an object, that appears to be such a text.” Denmark’s latest blasphemy amendment comes six years after the government in 2017 repealed a more than 100-year-old blasphemy provision in the Danish Penal Code. According to the Danish government, the decision to introduce this provision is the result of an increased “terrorist threat” following a recent string of Qur’an burnings.“

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.”

USCIRF defines blasphemy as “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God or sacred things.” Blasphemy laws punish expressions or acts deemed blasphemous, defamatory of religions, or contemptuous of religion or religious symbols, figures, or feelings. Such laws are inconsistent with human rights law, which protects the rights of individuals, but not religious feelings, figures, or symbols from behavior or speech considered blasphemous.

All too often, governments suppress human rights protected under international law in pursuit of national security concerns,” said USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck. Denmark, as a democracy, should not compromise fundamental rights to manage such aims. The Danish government must instead work with communities to address religiously-motivated hatred and intolerance, and support freedom of religion or belief.

In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF detailed religious freedom issues in Europe. In July 2023, USCIRF released a report highlighting concerns for freedom of religion or belief in the European Union. In September 2023, USCIRF published a compendium and accompanying factsheet on blasphemy laws around the world.

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