Danish blasphemy case demonstrates risk of Canada's law

A man is facing blasphemy charges after allegedly burning a copy of the Quran for an online video posted to an anti-Islam group in December 2015.

The prosecution marks the first time in 45 years that Denmark has invoked the law. The last accusations were brought against a radio station that was ultimately acquitted in 1971. The last conviction was in 1946.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

A dormant law is not a dead law. This case demonstrates that under the right political climate, Canada's blasphemy law could be invoked to censor the criticism of ideas.

While rising intolerance and anti-Muslim bigotry are global concerns, both Canada and Denmark have other tools to tackle these issues. Blasphemy is a victimless crime; laws against blasphemy serve only to censor criticism and silence religious dissent.

Section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada says anyone who commits "blasphemous libel" could face imprisonment of up to two years. The BC Humanist Association was part of a coalition of Canadian secular groups that launched an e-petition last year calling on the Government of Canada to repeal that section. Responding on behalf of the government, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that provision would be considered as part of a "broad review" of Canada's criminal justice system.

Canada's blasphemy law was last invoked in 1979 and the last conviction was in 1935.

Lone Ree Milkær, chairperson, Danish Humanist Society (Humanistisk Samfund):

Denmark should abolish the blasphemy law. We have freedom of religion and belief and it makes no sense to have a special protection of religions or worship. Imagine that we protected ideologies in the same way. In a secular democracy we should be able to tolerate utterances (and actions with no victims) that we dislike or disagree with and we should argue against them instead of punishing by law.

Andrew Copson, President, International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU):

We condemn the use of ‘blasphemy’ laws in all circumstances. Around the world, accusations of ‘blasphemy’ can spark mass protests, the harassment of individuals, or even murder. ‘Blasphemy’ is a bizarre, fictitious notion as a crime and has no place in courts of law anywhere in the world. … The answer to anti-Muslim bigotry, when that is what is going on, is education and understanding and dialogue. The answer is emphatically not to resurrect the state policing of religious acts and language.

Michael De Dora, Representative to the UN, Center for Inquiry:

The fundamental rights that allow a religious believer to freely profess the divinity of a holy book also allow someone else to defile that book, and still others to censure such an action… While the actions of the accused may be offensive and his sentiments ugly, real democracy is only possible with the freedom to criticize even the most deeply held beliefs.

The BC Humanist Association is part of the International Campaign to Abolish Blasphemy Laws.

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