Denmark enforces blasphemy law; charges man with burning Qur’an

February 23, 2017 • 10:30 am

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) reports that a man in Denmark has been charged with violating the blasphemy laws by burning a Qur’an.  It’s the first time Denmark’s blasphemy law has been invoked in 46 years.

Denmark is reactivating it’s [sic] ‘blasphemy’ law, for the first time in 46 years, charging a man for posting a video of himself burning a copy of the Quran.

The accused (aged 42) posted the video clip entitled “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns” to a Facebook group called “YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM” (“JA TIL FRIHED – NEJ TIL ISLAM“) in December 2015.

A spokesperson from the public prosecutor’s office in Viborg said: “It is the prosecution’s view that circumstances involving the burning of holy books such as the Bible and the Quran can in some cases be a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion.” The case will now be heard in court at Aalborg, and if found guilty the accused could face a prison sentence, though prosecutors say they will probably ask for a fine.

. . . The accused (aged 42) posted the video clip entitled “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns” to a Facebook group called “YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM” (“JA TIL FRIHED – NEJ TIL ISLAM“) in December 2015.

Since when is the burning of the Qur’an NOT a violation of the blasphemy law, since all such instances are at least perceived by Muslims as mocking or scorning their faith?

I’ve put the Facebook post below; you can go there and hear the song by clicking on the screenshot, but unless you speak Danish, you won’t get it. You can get the post automatically translated if you want, though the translation is pretty garbled. Perhaps a Danish-speaking reader can help.


The piece by the IHEU includes comments by the head of the British Humanists and the Danish Humanist society decrying the blasphemy law, which should certainly be scrapped. Really, Denmark, why do you have such a law? Aren’t you ashamed? And why didn’t you invoke it when the Jyllands-Posten published those Danish “Muhammad” cartoons? That’s sheer hypocrisy. But, as The Independent reports:

Under clause 140 of Denmark’s penal code, anyone can be imprisoned or fined for publicly insulting or degrading religious doctrines or worship.

Only four blasphemy prosecutions have ever been attempted in the country.

The last was in 1971, when two Denmark Radio producers were acquitted after airing a song mocking Christianity.

Two people were previously fined in 1946 after acting out a “baptism” at a ball in Copenhagen, while four others were sentenced for putting up anti-Semitic posters and leaflets in 1938.

At least a dozen other cases have been considered but not charged, including in 2006 when prosecutors decided to stop an investigation into the Jyllands-Posten newspaper over a controversial set of caricatures under the headline “The Face of Mohamed”.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Denmark has such a law, and they should deep-six it immediately. Wikipedia notes that most Danes, though, support it. What the hell?:

In Denmark, Paragraph 140 of the penal code is about blasphemy. Since 1866, this law has only led to convictions twice, in 1938 and in 1946. One further charge was brought to court in 1971, but led to acquittal. The related hate speech paragraph (266b) is also used, albeit more frequently. Abolition of the blasphemy clause has been proposed several times by members of the parliament, but has failed to gain majority. Moreover, 66% of Denmark’s population supports the blasphemy law, which makes it illegal to “mock legal religions and faiths in Denmark”.

In the U.S. the failure to charge people consistently with violating a law, as they didn’t in the Jyllands-Posten case, would invalidate that law, for laws applied unequally are capricious and usually overturned.

h/t: Grania

55 thoughts on “Denmark enforces blasphemy law; charges man with burning Qur’an

      1. Its beyond shameful. that’s what comes of allowing religious leaders any say in formulating Laws. They should be kept well away from the seats of power.

  1. I would like to think that this is a test case – sort of like Scopes, someone doing something illegal specifically so the court can consider whether it should be illegal or not. However, at the outset this does not appear to be the case.

    1. I have no knowledge of Danish Law but in the UK it would not be within the powers of the judiciary to declare a statutory crime not to be a crime. It is however within the power of courts to declare an activity criminal although not hitherto thought of as such. In 1961 a Mr Shaw was convicted of a conspiracy to corrupt public morals by having published a so called “Ladies Directory”, which comprised a list of London prostitutes. The leading judgment when the case came before the then Judicial Committee of the House of Lords on appeal was delivered by Viscount Simonds who held that “the courts had a residual power, where no statute has yet intervened, to supersede the common law, to superintend those offences which are prejudicial to the public welfare.”. That was 56 years ago. I doubt that judgment would be followed today in any like case on appeal to the Supreme Court.

  2. Of course. Any “religion” can choose to curse me, advocate my shunning, kill me for being an unbeliever, and threaten me with eternal torture. And even if they do not at present, I am aware they venerate books that do.

    And if I publicly pay back the insults in kind, I am the one charged with a crime?

    1. You would need to establish your own religion, I suppose, and insist that everyone respect you or be similarly punished.

      Bonus points for making it wackier than Scientology.

      1. I like where you’re going with this. And if I can grab some tithes while I’m at it, I’ll drop my objections. Tax-free, of course.

  3. I’m confused.

    Is it not blasphemy within Christianity to bow towards Mecca?

    Is it not blasphemy within Islam to worship Jesus as a third of the triune Godhead?

    Is it not blasphemy within either to burn incense for Krishna?

    And was it not blasphemy within Catholicism for Martin Luther to nail his Theses to the door, within Christianity for Muhammad to proclaim himself the Prophet, within Judaism for Jesus to declare himself the Son of God, within Judaism for Moses to smash the first copy of the Decalogue or for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit…?

    (That only the first example is historical is irrelevant to the discussion, of course.)

    How, exactly, is a non-sectarian blasphemy law supposed to work, short of convicting, with no exaggeration, everybody?



    1. I’m not defending the law, but the law defines blasphemy in its own way. The blasphemy is decided by how blasphemy itself is defined in the law.

      What troubles me is that such a prosecution under the law will embolden people to start bringing more actions under it. When one reads the text, it seems a law more about intent of the offender rather than the offended, but that could change under the hand of prosecutors.

      1. This is about knowledge only: who knows what was done. I could excite my prize bull to ejaculate all over the Koran or the ‘paste-insecure-nation’ flag and if only the bull and I know, well there’s no offense no matter what the intent.

      1. That is not true in the case of Denmark. The blasphemy law is from 1866, and has until recently mainly been used to protect Christianity. Also bear in mind that this is only the third time anybody has been convicted according to the law. It is however an embarrassment to a secular society as the Danish to have such law.

        1. This is why I wrote “currently”. Of course, such laws were initially introduced to protect the traditional religion from criticism. However, the Danish law was dormant for decades, and is now reactivated to protect Islam.
          If I understood correctly, the accused has not yet been convicted, only charged. I hope that he will be acquitted.

  4. In the United States there is a concept called prosecutorial discretion, which “refers to the fact that under American law, government prosecuting attorneys have nearly absolute powers. A prosecuting attorney has power on various matters including those relating to choosing whether or not to bring criminal charges, deciding the nature of charges, plea bargaining and sentence recommendation. This discretion of the prosecuting attorney is called prosecutorial discretion.”

    If such a concept applies to Danish law then it may very well be that the decision to prosecute was made by a few or just one individual and may not at all reflect the opinion of the Danish government at large. So, this decision may have been made by a rogue prosecutor. I would be interested to know if this perhaps is the case or whether the Danish justice system works very differently than the one in the United States.

    1. Very good point. Before going after all of Denmark it might do well to check it out. The law should be deep six, no doubt. What the heck is Denmark doing with such a law in the most modern and liberal part of the world? Would you go to jail for burning the flag in Denmark?

      1. Many countries have laws against burning (or desecrating) the national flag, including, sadly, New Zealand. However, the one conviction here was eventually overruled, mostly because the lower courts and the prosecution had proceeded under the wrong law.

        (My tip: Burn an Aussie flag instead. Most people can’t tell the difference, specially when it’s on fire, and I don’t think it’s illegal to burn other countries’ flags, besides which a lot of Kiwis would, rather deplorably, regard that with approbation 😉


    2. My thoughts exactly. Before USAnians get too superior about it, they should reflect on the number of bizarre prosecutions that have been brought over the years by maverick US prosecutors.


  5. The trouble for these religionists is they don’t even know their own deity’s laws.

    “vengeance is mine, I shall repay”

    So if their deity has a problem with “blasphemy” it’s up to it to fix it.

    Not for idiotic rules invented to placate tee invisible!

    1. Well, it just depends which page, paragraph and line you choose. Their holy book also has that living incarnation of god as love, Jesus, telling his flock to bring anyone who doesn’t believe in him and slay them while he watches. Sounds a little kinky to me.

  6. Interesting that this is the first time that the blasphemy law is being invoked the first time in 46 years.

    Have there been, in that time, no “blasphemous” acts against other religions?

    Is one religion getting special protection?

  7. Translation of the FB-post:

    is a public debate group
    where almost everyone is welcome, to participate in the debate about Islam /
    muslims…The group is Islam-hostile..because Islam is not compatible with democracy/peace/freedom/freedom of speech..If anybody is in doubt (this word originally spelled incorrectly) some verses from the Quran..and look at the world where Islam /muslims exist…there is no place where islam/muslims can live in peaceful coexistence with non-muslims..For 1400 years islam/muslims have murdered 270 million people..and they keep murdering..Islam/muslims doesnt integrate..which is clearly illustrated throughout Europe..where Muslims rage..(they)destroy and spread fear in the population…”

    The first half of the rest of the post is about the rules posted by the admin of the group which include among others:
    -Heading on post
    – Deletion of post /comment = expulsion
    – Attacks on members = expulsion
    – Blocking of members is rude, and may result in expulsion (of the group)
    – Members have to be 18 years of age, have to have a profile picture, and the acoount have to be less than 1 years old

    The second half of the rest of the post is nine (9) verses cited from the Quran (which is supposed to illustrate that the theology of the Muslims is violent.

    The last remark below the citations is “This is what Islam calles peaceful.”

    The video is an overtly nationalistic song which repeatedly says that “Denmark is for the Danish”, “We have made this land”, and that “We have the ownership rights.”

    The title of the song is “Denmark´s Earth” and the short description of the song is “by John Mogensen Denmark for the Danish!”

    1. Thanks for the translation. The author seems like a pretty odious and xenophobic character, but of course that’s no reason for singling him out for prosecution for blasphemy. Free speech is free speech.

      1. I agree. I am really worried about the status and standing of free speech in Norway too!

        Sidenote: We have a similar group in Norway called PEGIDA which seems to have ties to the Norwegian Defense Leaguge which also have as their slogan “Norway for the Norwegians”. I went to the Pegida FB page, and saw a couple of interviews with their leader, and was disappointed with how they voiced their criticsm of Islam, and its ideology. In the Norwegian newspapers I see a lot of instances of Regressive Leftism, and very few writers lie Nick Cohen, or Sam Harris that dares to stand up to the Left, and voice their arguments, it is kind of like a with hunt of individual (like politicals or political commentators) if they go against the stream.

  8. In the U.S. the failure to charge people consistently with violating a law … would invalidate that law, for laws applied unequally are capricious and usually overturned.

    Would that this were true! The penal codes of many states (and even of the federal government) are cluttered with such otiose laws. Hell, some states still have sodomy statutes that are rarely (if ever) prosecuted, and which may be unconstitutional under existing US Supreme Court precedent. (And as we discovered during the recent contretemps involving former National Security advisor Michael Flynn, the Logan Act, 18 USC section 953, has been on the books since 1799, but has yet to be prosecuted.)

    Were an attempt suddenly made to enforce such laws, many of them might be deemed to be void for their vagueness or capriciousness by the courts. It would also be unconstitutional for such laws to be prosecuted selectively and invidiously against a particular group or individual.

    If they are never to be used, such moribund statutes should be repealed. To keep them on the books breeds disrespect for law.

  9. Well I can think of a circumstance when burning a Koran is not blasphemy. If Al Qaida bombs a Shi’ite mosque and it burns. Other variations are possible, and happen.

    1. E.g. when ISIS destroys a public library + museum containing, among other precious items, a few centuries-old Korans (I think this was in Mosul, but they have destroyed so much that I cannot keep track).

      1. Saudi Arabia has been brutalizing Yemen, and there are apparently important Islamic historical artefacts there too. (Of course, one source apparently might have stuff which shows that the Koran grew over time, not appeared all at once, which would be awkward …)

  10. “the blasphemy law, which makes it illegal to “mock legal religions and faiths in Denmark”.”

    What is a ‘legal’ religion? Do they keep a list? How do you get your religion put on the list? Is Scientology on the list? Jedi? Which branch of the government or judiciary is charged with making such judgements? And conversely are there ‘illegal’ religions in Denmark?

    1. Issues regarding what constitutes a legitimate “religion” arise frequently under US law — usually pertaining to claims made under the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment and regarding 501(c)(3) religious tax exemptions.

      It’s anything but a bright line.

    2. I bet religions practicing or praising human sacrifice or cannibalism are illegal.

      (I’m not talking about how god sacrificed his only son or about eating Jesus’s body and drinking his blood. This is totally different and I wouldn’t mock Christianity or any blasphemy law in any democracy for this.)

  11. Legal ones must have to be old and with a decent following, not ones that are reasonable.

    How old? Maybe Scientology isn’t old enough but Mormonism is. The Pastafarians have to keep at it a while before laughing at their colander head gear will be truly offensive.

  12. To me it looks like religious scriptures are evidence for the non existence of any supernatural god and that the religious leaders of past millennia were just making stuff up, so why burn them ? I’m trying to remember the phrase Richard Dawkins used in, “The God Delusion” for the better way to go; consciousness raising ?

    Has there ever been a successful prophecy ?

    As far as I know, no one pre 1000 A.D showed any knowledge what so ever of what the 21st century would be like.

    What person in the whole of recorded history ever made a specific detailed prediction of something that would happen even 200 years in the future? (Things which can be proven not just to have been written after the fact)

    There were loads of things about the physical world, that unaided human eye could never see, that religious leaders could have told the world about before telescopes & microscopes were invented but the religions totally failed.

    What would we think if the Egyptian temples had accurate star maps with the top 100 galaxies by apparent visual magnitude plotted ? Alien visitation ?

    Where in the scriptures does it say, “Buy that land on the coast south of Kuwait, there is oil underground that will be very valuable to your distant relatives” (Well there were tar puddles known in ancient times & used for waterproofing boats so it shouldn’t have been too great a leap to predict the future usefulness)

    1. What if the Nazca lines in Peru had shown, not native mammals & birds but Ostrich, Giraffe or Wombat ? Or what if they showed a star map with the Trappist-1 solar system’s seven planets ? The religions only spoke of their own wee local region or distant post death fantasy.

  13. Here’s the thing…I love Denmark and the Danes and wonder what’s happened to their rationality? “Blasphemy laws” are that (sorry for the cliche) “slippery slope” to a total loss of democracy and I”m amazed to hear they’ve done this.

  14. Long time reader of your blog, but first time commenter.I come here for the biology/evolution posts and stay for the political.

    I am Danish myself and would like to comment on the Facebook post you shared above. I certainty find it embarrassing that Denmark has a law against blasphemy. It is even unnecessary for it has seldom been used. Until this week the last convocation were in 1946. Denmark has a lot of these outdated rules and if you read the Danish constitution you would think that Denmark is a theocracy ruled by a supreme king. This is not the case. Despite this Denmark is a secular democracy and has one of the largest percentage of non-believers in the world (25-75% of the total population depending on how you define non-believer). It is the practice that these laws do not really apply. Therefore it is just the more weird that they still technically are in place, for it just leaves the possibility that they can be misused under the wrong circumstances.

    However the group “JA TIL FRIHED – NEJ TIL ISLAM“- though saying all the right things about freedom of speech – are not really defenders of free speech. As far as I know, they are not really motivated by fair critique of religion. They are rather motivated by kicking immigrants out of Denmark. Most of these groups are on the nationalist-conservative wing that indeed are Islam critical, but only because they see it as a threat to their own Christian belief. If you begin to criticize Christianity in public newspapers you do not have to scroll down far before you find post, by the same people, who calls you a traitor to your country. Recently the Danish ministry of church angrily accused the Danish atheist society for trying to abolish Danish culture. They only fight for freedom of speech whenever it allows them to make generalizations about Muslims, or when calling their right to freedom of speech when somebody disagrees with them rather than replying to the topic.

    1. Almost all constitutional monarchies are nominally but not really theocracies, as far as I can tell – my own country of Canada is the same. (And, sad to say, we too have a “blasphemy law” – one against “blasphemous libel”, which I suspect could not be invoked against a “holy book” burning.)

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