We should protect the right to freedom of religion

In a now-familiar scenario, activists engage in widely publicized, controversial statements criticizing or disparaging a religion, drawing global condemnation and outrage, possibly violence or threats.

Then parliamentarians, heads of state and religious leaders push for changes in the law to ensure such statements are punished now and banned in the future.

Sometimes they fail, and free speech lives to fight another day. But this time they succeeded.

Denmark has collapsed under the pressure, signaling its intention to at least criminalize the desecration of sacred books.

This capitulation is not just a blow to the right to blaspheme: Denmark’s leaders have opened the door to greater restrictions on religious freedom of religion and political Expression – a door that, once opened, is notoriously difficult to close again.

Danish officials announced their intention to criminalize Koran burning in late August, following a spate of protests controversial incidents in Denmark and Sweden there were increasingly violent protests and a deterioration Relationships with Iraq, Morocco, Turkey and other countries.

Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem
On August 25, the State Department announced that it “intends to criminalize the improper treatment of objects of significant religious significance to a religious community.”
Kyrylo Glivin

On August 25, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it “intends to criminalize the improper handling of objects of significant religious importance to a religious community,” citing in particular the public burning of sacred books such as the Koran or the Bible as an example.

Make no mistake: it’s essentially a blasphemy law designed to protect religious symbols that the Danish government deems sufficiently sacred from criticism it deems insufficiently civilized.

But in a free, secular society, it is not the job of government to choose which belief systems deserve protection from serious crime and which criticisms of them are “inappropriate.”

Worse, more than just expressing opinions about religion is at risk.

The Ministry has also suggested this it can intervene when other “countries” and “cultures” are offended in a way that “could have significant negative consequences for Denmark”.

Sunset over the old church in the ghost town of Dorothy
The ministry has also indicated that it could intervene if other “countries” and “cultures” are offended in a way that “could have significant negative consequences for Denmark”.

The announcement comes as a disappointment, but not exactly a shock given the growing pressure to criminalize language – pressure not just from individual politicians around the world but from global institutions like the United Nations.

From 28 to 12, the UN Human Rights Council in July passed a resolution calling on states to “combat, prevent and prosecute acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.

The resolution, while non-binding, signaled one alarming victory for states, including Pakistan and China, seeking to strengthen the authorities’ ability to punish dissenters and to codify the state’s position on religious – and often political – matters, all with the apparent consent of the international human rights community.

Weeks later, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, a group of 57 member states that is the “collective voice of the Muslim world,” released its own statement resolution They call for the “immediate cessation and criminalization” of the burning of the Koran and legal action against online statements that insult religious “institutions, holy books and religious symbols”.

What began as a debate over the right to burn a sacred book will not end so narrowly.

Between the UNHRC’s call for prosecution for the vaguely worded “acts and endorsements of religious hatred” and the OIC’s call for a ban on even more vague “insults” of religious institutions and symbols, there is a growing global drive to censor and prosecute religious crimes.

At the same time, the will to protect the right to criticize and even insult religion is dwindling.

Many understandably find the burning of books, particularly a sacred book, disturbing and offensive.

But what is touted as a crackdown on religious “hate” will inevitably happen Also They target dissenting statements against religious organizations, which are undeniably large, influential, and often explicitly political institutions.

There is no way to impartially ban the allegedly “hateful” desecration of a sacred object without also banning opponents of Iran’s morality police, for example destroy a headscarf or activists from painting Rainbow Halo on the Virgin Mary.

One person’s religious hate act is another person’s political protest—as witnessed by the many feminists, secularists, educators, and LGBT rights activists who have been censored by blasphemy laws.

Other free nations should take Denmark’s decision as a cautionary tale, not a role model.

We will not make the world any less hateful by outlawing dissenters, and those considering new restrictions on blasphemy should reflect critically on why governments that routinely silence their critics are such staunch supporters of blasphemy.

Sarah McLaughlin is Senior Fellow on Global Expression at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.


DUSTIN JONES is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. DUSTIN JONES joined USTimeToday in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with DUSTIN JONES by emailing dustinjones@ustimetoday.com.

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