Denmark Set to Ban Scripture Burnings
Unbelief Brief
August 28, 2023
After a string of public Qur’an burnings in the country, Danish authorities are taking steps to formally criminalize the public burning of religious texts.

Pakistan: Sectarian violence…

A wave of violence and arson began, as it so often does in Pakistan, with a blasphemy accusation.

The circumstances surrounding it were somewhat strange:

Pages of the Quran were found in a street with derogatory comments written on them in red, police said.

One attached extra page also carried the names, addresses and national identity card numbers of the accused, provincial police chief Usman Anwar said.

The accused were Christians, and the accusations led to broader attacks on homes and churches, including arson. 

It remains unclear why the accused would have revealed sensitive personal information about themselves after committing a “crime” that so often inspires vigilante violence in their country. It is worth noting that the blasphemy law in Pakistan is not uncommonly exploited for the purposes of revenge and settling personal disputes.

The accused, of course, were ultimately arrested.

…and another blasphemy arrest

Beyond the Christians this month, there was a member of another religious minority in Pakistan who faced legal consequences for allegedly improper comments about religion.

A Hindu in Punjab was reportedly arrested after insulting Islamic religious concepts and “holy places.” He had allegedly made the “disrespectful” comments to “a motor mechanic” in his shop, who then reported the accused to police.

Inspector Safdar Hussain of Kotsamaba police station said the accused was arrested on August 11 and immediately shifted to jail on judicial remand, fearing a law-and-order situation in the village.

Fortunately, this time, it does seem that a “law-and-order situation” was indeed averted, something the aforementioned Christians were not so lucky to avoid.

Denmark set to ban scripture burnings

After a string of public Qur’an burnings in the country, Danish authorities are taking steps to formally criminalize the public burning of religious texts, a move the government explicitly framed as a response to the “discord and hatred” created by the Qur’an burnings.

The government claims that the ban will apply only to public demonstrations which desecrate religious texts, will not apply to written, drawn, or spoken expression in any form, and will not infringe on the Danish culture of free expression, which they say remains an important part of Danish politics and society.

While the impulse to curb social strife is understandable, and the exclusion of “verbal or written statements” is welcome, the mere fact that a new law criminalizing “disrespect toward religion”—even if purportedly only in one limited form—poses a troubling precedent. At the very least, there are “no plans to reintroduce a blasphemy clause that was repealed in 2017.” 

Nonetheless, in discussing the law, lawmakers have used language similarly vague to “blanket,” de facto blasphemy laws in the Islamic world (and, increasingly, in India) which serve, in reality, to punish cultural offenses against the religious majority. It also represents an imposition against the freedom of expression, however limited and well-intentioned it may be.

It remains to be seen what the law looks like in its final form, and it has yet to be passed, but the measure enjoys broad support from the current governing coalition. It appears likely that Danes will no longer be free to disrespect religious texts in this way fairly soon.

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