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Go Forth and Blaspheme! Denmark Revokes Profanity Law for Freedom of Speech

© AP Photo / John McConnicoMuslims gesture as one holds a Quran, during a protest against the publication by a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, outside the City Hall, in Copenhagen, Denmark (File)
Muslims gesture as one holds a Quran, during a protest against the publication by a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, outside the City Hall, in Copenhagen, Denmark (File) - Sputnik International
As a result of an intense debate that was largely fueled by a notorious case where a Quran was burned, Denmark has reinforced its stance as a champion of freedom of expression by abolishing an obsolete anti-blasphemy law that forbade public insults of religion.

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Over the past century, only a handful of blasphemy trials have taken place in the Kingdom, resulting in only three convictions. Furthermore, several high-profile cases suggesting blasphemy were dropped altogether, such as the 2005 controversy over cartoons featuring Mohammed which were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, igniting anti-Danish riots in the Muslim world.

Denmark, which is predominantly Lutheran and agnostic or atheist, has until now been the only Nordic nation to have a valid blasphemy clause in its code of laws. The recently abolished version of the blasphemy law threatened to penalize offenders with fines or up to four months in prison, Danish Radio reported.

The law was introduced in 1683 and has long remained in force despite undergoing minor amendments. The abolition of the centuries-old anachronism was made possible after a somewhat surprising change of opinion by Denmark's ruling Liberal Party. Following the turnabout, all of the parliamentary parties except the Social Democrats voted to abolish the blasphemy clause. The lawmakers who were against the contentious law cited "special rules protecting religions against expressions," the Danish parliament reported on its website.

"Religion should not dictate what one may and what one may not say in public," MP Bruno Jerup told Jyllands-Posten, stressing that such provisions gave religion "a totally unfair priority in society."

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In the 20th century, the dubious law was only applied three times. In 1938, four people were convicted for anti-Semitic blood libel. In 1946, two people were fined for mocking the rite of baptism during a masked ball, and in 1971 two public radio officials were convicted for broadcasting a song that was deemed to promote irreverence.

Denmark's final blasphemer was a 42-year old man who purposefully burned the Quran on ideological grounds in 2015. The man uploaded a video of himself torching the book to an anti-Muslim public group on Facebook and was initially charged with racism; the accusation was later altered and he stood accused of blasphemy. Incidentally, the man also claimed to have burned the Bible, which made no sensation whatsoever. By contrast, the Quran burning led to an overwhelming reaction, as the man started to receive threats and was forced to change his Facebook account, address and telephone number.

According to the current legislation, the burning of religious scriptures is therefore no longer punishable, unlike remarks and acts that threaten or demean certain groups of people because of their religious beliefs.

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