Dismay as Denmark re-introduces blasphemy law

8 December, 2023

Humanists UK is dismayed by the news that the Danish parliament has banned the ‘inappropriate treatment’ of religious texts. Those falling foul of this regressive law will now face a fine or up to two years in prison. Humanists UK says that this is a de facto blasphemy law that fuels intolerance.

Six years ago, Denmark became the fifth European country to abolish its blasphemy laws since Humanists UK co-founded the End Blasphemy Coalition. In February 2017, a man was charged for posting a video of himself burning a copy of the Quran. Up until this point, attempts to bring alleged blasphemy cases to court had been dismissed by prosecutors on the grounds of protecting free speech and the law had been considered dead letter for nearly 50 years. Its reactivation sparked a national debate, renewing calls for the law to be abolished, and that call was successful in June 2017.

This new law is a considerable backwards step for Denmark in fulfilling its obligation to promote and protect the universal human rights of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. These rights are mutually reinforcing as they allow for the exchange of ideas which is necessary for a tolerant society to flourish because it allows for hatred on the basis of religion or belief to be challenged. 

13 countries have the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy; a number more have seen people murdered for the same so-called crimes. 52 have prison sentences for blasphemy or apostasy, and 20 more have some other criminal restrictions, meaning 85 have some kind of criminalisation. A few examples include the conviction and sentencing of the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, who is now serving a 24-year sentence for ‘blasphemy’ because of some Facebook posts. In May this year, two protesters in Iran were hanged – executed after being convicted of ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’ and ‘insulting the Prophet’.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick commented:

‘We would never advocate for desecration of books, venerated objects and symbols, but to suggest this in and of itself impacts a person’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is unacceptable, unless constituted as part of a wider hate crime.

‘Human rights law applies to people. Books, venerated objects, and symbols, much like flags, are not protected by the right to freedom of religion or belief.  There is no basis to protect venerated objects under international law. Humanists UK has a long history of campaigning for the abolition of blasphemy laws – at home and abroad. We will continue to do so.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 3675 0959.

Read more about our work on repealing blasphemy laws

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.