Danish Government proposes a new law to ban the burning of holy books
On Friday 25th August, the Danish government announced a new bill, which is intended to ban the burning of all Holy books including the Quran, the Torah and the Bible. The bill comes after years of controversial public stunts by far right groups deliberately designed to provoke rage by burning the Quran in prominent public spaces. More recently the Danish-Swedish far-right politician Rasmus Paludin, grabbed the headlines and provoked worldwide condemnation and major street protests, when he repeated his Quran burning stunt in January this year, outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden. Later in the year, in July, members of the Islamophobic and far-right nationalist group "Danske Patrioter (Danish Patriots), burned copies of the Quran outside the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Reconciling freedom of speech with the right to protect against acts of hatred
The decision by the state authorities in Sweden, to grant permission for the stunt to take place under the banner of freedom of speech, saw Turkey threatening to veto Sweden’s membership of NATO. The Swedish government was forced to reconcile its liberal values on freedom of speech with the need to police against acts of hate. The Swedish government at the time issued a statement distancing itself from the acts, but was still clearly wrestling with its long held freedom of speech values It said:
‘The Swedish Government fully understands that the Islamophobic acts committed by individuals at demonstrations in Sweden can be offensive to Muslims,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday… We strongly condemn these acts, which in no way reflect the views of the Swedish government’
Similarly, in July following the Quran burning incident outside the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen, the Danish Foreign Ministry issued a statement referring to the incident as ‘a shameful act’ that disrespects the religion of others and underlined the position of the Danish government in its belief that Muslims represent ‘a valued part of the Danish population’. At that time it was clear that the Danish government was wrestling with trying to maintain an open position in terms of its stance on freedom of speech. It added a caveat to its statement:
‘Denmark supports the right to protest but emphasizes that it must remain peaceful’
The Bill marks a shift in Denmark's position
This Friday, 25th August 2023, as the new bill was announced, it would seem that the position of the Danish government at least, has shifted. The Danish Foreign Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, spoke on Danish radio and said that he hoped the bill would ‘send an important signal’ to the rest of the world. At a press conference, the Danish Justice Minister, Peter Hummelgaard said that the law would prohibit:
‘improper treatment of objects of significant religious significance to a religious community’
'We can’t continue to stand by with our arms crossed..'
He explained that the bill, when it becomes law will ensure that acts of burning the Quran will be punishable by fines and up to 2 years imprisonment. Referring to the recent series of Quran burning events, he commented that these were ‘senseless taunts’ which simply incited ‘discord and hatred’. Crucially he pointed out that the main motivation for the ban was in the interests of national security.
‘We can’t continue to stand by with our arms crossed while several individuals do everything they can to provoke violent reactions’
Muslims gather in their hundreds to demonstrate outside the Danish parliament
The announcement of the new bill stirred Muslims to gather outside of the Danish parliamentary building, to protest against the Quran burnings and the ongoing row over a ban on the wearing of the Hijab in a school earlier in the year.