Iceland Repeals Criminal Blasphemy Law

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

pirate-party-iceland-logoThe Pirate Party of Iceland (Píratar) successfully introduced a bill to the Alþingi repealing Article 125 of the Penal Code—Blasphemy. The measure passed with a nearly unanimous parliamentary vote.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Pirate Members of Parliament Helgi Gunnarsson, Jon Thor Olafsson, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir introduced the repeal measure.

Article 125 formerly of the Penal Code read in part: “Anyone who publicly ridicules or insults the dogmas or worship of a lawful religious community in Iceland, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 3 months.”

Helgi Gunnarsson, Jon Thor Olafsson, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir
Members of Parliament Helgi Gunnarsson, Jon Thor Olafsson, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir

Under this code, blasphemy defendants could face imprisonment for expressing views subject to arbitrary application of what would constitute an offense. Pirate Helgi Hrafin cited an example in 1997 where a comedy group was investigated for blasphemy after religious groups pressured police. Several defendants were made to wait months, worrying if they would eventually be prosecuted. He added:

“If we are to honor freedom of expression it’s not enough for us to point at somebody else and brag about how Western culture is supposedly much better at freedom of speech, we have to practice what we preach. We have to allow speech that goes no further than to offend the occasional person.

“People do not have a right to never be offended.”

He believes also that Iceland is far from perfect with regard to freedom of expression, and that much work still remains.

Of course others within Icelandic Society believe anti-blasphemy laws should remain. It is a position that is not fully contrary to the Pirate’s bill but can be viewed from a protection of religious liberty perspective. Iceland Monitor reports:

The Fíladelfía Pentecostal Church expressed its position: “Does a person’s human rights include the right to mock the beliefs of others? Do people really need the right openly to incite contempt for a given group of people on the grounds of their faith? […] Repealing existing legislation on blasphemy is tantamount to legalising hate speech. Current legislation does not ban freedom of expression or criticism of religion – it bans parody, irony and prejudice-inciting expression.”

The Catholic Church commented:

“For people of faith, religion and the image of God are important aspects of their existence, identity and dignity, and this should be protected by law. Should freedom of expression go so far as to mean that the identity of a person of faith can be freely insulted, then the personal freedom – as individuals or groups – is also undermined. Unlimited and unrestricted freedom of expression, without any sense of responsibility or natural social constraints, may lead to psychological abuse of individuals or groups. The Catholic Church in Iceland cannot and will not accept this new possibility of inflicting psychological abuse on individuals or groups.”

The repeal bill’s text has a statement that reads as follows: N.B. this translation results from a modification of an automatic translation to the English and might not constitute a fully accurate interpretation.


Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of democracy. It is essential in a free society that the public can express themselves without fear of punishment of any kind, either by authorities or others.

Article 125. Penal Code reads: “Anyone who publicly ridiculing or insulting the dogmas or worship of a lawful religious community in Iceland, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 3 months. … [?]

With this bill that provision is abolished. Individuals have different perspectives on life and it is expected that expressions are such that while one might consider such normal, others might find these offensive. Fortunately, the experiences in people’s lives differ. Therefore, it is totally unrealistic to expect human thoughts, feelings and beliefs always fit within the framework of the so-called general propriety.

It has been argued that it is unnecessary to worry about the [blasphemy] Law as it is rarely used and an article that basically is a dead letter of the law:

– First it goes without argument the article is unfair.
– Second, [Did not translate. Original text is:] Í öðru lagi hefur almenningur rétt á því að geta kynnt sér hegningarlög og áttað sig með einhverjum hætti á því hvaða takmarkana sé ætlast til á hegðun manna og tjáningu. Því geta lögin haft hamlandi áhrif á samfélagið án þess að komi til kasta dómstóla.
– Thirdly, the leaders of Iceland did not condemn the application of similar laws in less free countries and they also established criminal blasphemy legislation in this country.

Recently the cause of the devastating attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris and is considered to be the controversy of published drawings of the prophet Muhammad.

Such attacks on people because of their expressions are unfortunately not a new phenomenon, and democratic societies must respond to such attacks with the clear message that freedom of expression will never be subjected to bloodshed, violence or intimidation. On these grounds we submit this bill to Parliament to share our message of solidarity.

Icelandic legislation has often been criticized for various shortcomings by international institutions, including that a judge may order a prison sentence for illegal expressions, including blasphemy. More strides need to be made, but here we propose that one of the most obvious disgraces to the Criminal Code be destroyed.

By Darren Smith


Deutsche Welle
Iceland Monitor
Repeal Bill Text (Icelandic)
Repeal Bill Text (Automatic Translation to the English)

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29 thoughts on “Iceland Repeals Criminal Blasphemy Law”

  1. Nick, my dear – sorry but I have to disagree with AnthonyBourdain. Iceland has some of the best food in the world. I´ve been there at least 9 times. I think he just must have been hanging with the wrong people. You can´t get fresher fish anywhere. Has he tried the lobster there? Puts Boston “lobstah” to shame. The water is pristine, so the coffee is fabulous. Go to a bakery and have a coffee and a danish – heaven! I still have dreams about a Norwegian country bread my girlfriend serves at breakfast. Better than any bread I´ve had in Germany – and that means something. Plus, the air is clean and things just taste better in non-polluted air.

  2. I think they should rewrite all Holy Books every 500 years.

  3. Good that appeal laws against blasphemy. Now they should repeal all laws restricting free speech – especially “hate crime” laws. People should be able to offend anyone. Christians, Holocaust survivors, Communists, Nazis, Blacks, whites, gays or straights.

  4. On the 4th of July my wife and I enjoy watching Ben-Hur…just before the fireworks show at the Rose Bowl…enjoying my wife’s peach pie, with top and bottom crust

    1. Gladiator – are they doing Ben-Hur in the Rose Bowl or which version of Ben-Hur will you be watching?

  5. Scripture say, “God will not be mocked”…St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians…those who had a hand in Christ’s crucifixion, ended horribly…Pontius Pilate went blind and mad while governing Gaul…do not mock the Creator

  6. Why do they call it Iceland? Because one can slip and fall on slippery slopes and have not hopes. The Lard giveith and the Lard taketh away. Praise the Lard on Sunday and Krisco on Monday. So sayeth Jimmy Durante.

  7. I am a strong believer in the Good Lord, and an equally strong believer you may ridicule him as you wish. I like to think there are many like me.

  8. “Anyone who publicly ridiculing or insulting the dogmas or worship of a lawful religious community in Iceland, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 3 months”.

    How about anyone criticizing subjugation of women and favoritism towards men – the primary purpose of religion.

  9. @Penelope

    !!! I was going to say that! LOL! Oh well, serves me right for sleeping til noon. I will just do a poem instead!

    Iceland, Oh Iceland!
    A Short Poem by Squeeky Fromm

    Iceland, Oh Iceland!
    Home of the Edda.
    I hope this new law,
    Will make it all bedda!

    Iceland, Oh Iceland!
    Sing nicht diese tunes!
    Now you are free
    To Blaspheme in runes!

    So, in the end,
    All things will end well,
    And now we can say,

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  10. Penelope, May Thor strike you (and Baldur heal you) for that great pun!

    Raise the black flag!!

  11. JunkChuck – the reason Monty Python is so funny in The Life of Brian is because they know so much about the life of Jesus, Christianity and Roman history. And the more you know about all three, the funnier The Life of Brian is. However, The Life of Brian does not mock, it is parody.

  12. Score one for reason–religion is so silly, it begs mocking. Just ask Monty Python. Also, score a (slightly smaller) one for Penelope: pun of the day.

  13. Mark my words: terrible decision! Blasphemy laws are as traditional and proper as prayer opening Congress, as the cross on top of Mt. Soledad, and as hitting a snotty child acting out.

    We need to be plenty afraid of social change if we’re to keep control of our station and assets.

  14. Justice, I agree w/ your kudos to Iceland, but it there some other way to show our appreciation? Anthony Bourdain did a show in Iceland and said it had the worst food of any country he has visited; and he’s been around.

  15. Now if only we could get Obama to support this! But of course he is more likely to be on the other side of this argument unless the corporations want it then he will slip it in a secret race deal!

    It is time to increase tourismand investment to ICELAND and stop going to Dubai!

  16. Good news this 4th of July. All need understand, Obama supports blasphemy laws.

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