For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here. Now, Denmark has opened up its first blasphemy prosecution in 46 years. It is chilling evidence that the West is yielding to the pressure to curtail free speech in a crackdown on those who criticize or mock religion. In this case, a 42-year-old man protested what he viewed as the growing influence of Islam by setting a Quran on fire. The result is now a criminal charge for blasphemy as Denmark joins this worrisome trend.
Much of my prior writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt and Pakistan to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
These cases reflect the true purpose of blasphemy laws: to silence minority sects and religious critics in the name of a “true faith.” Fortunately the effort of Hillary Clinton and others in the Obama Administration to reach a compromise on blasphemy failed, though there continue to be efforts to create an international standard. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful but countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and Iran continue to push the West to abandon its free speech protections.
In this case, the man posted a clip entitled “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns” to a group called “YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM” in December 2015. The prosecution office made clear that it is willing to criminally charge anyone who mocks religion. Spokesperson Jan Reckendorff 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.”