Criticism of hate speech laws

New regulations to crack down on anti-democratic statements risk being too broadly applied warn critics

Muslim imams present such a threat to Danish democracy, according to the government, that greater controls are needed on what they can and cannot talk about.

In a new draft law, the government hopes to ban statements made in the context of religious teaching that promote terror, murder, rape, violence, incest, paedophilia, kidnapping, coercion, and bigamy. Breaking the law, which covers statements made in public and private, would result in a jail term of up to three years.

Associations can also have their public funding restricted if their goals or behaviour opposes democracy, fundamental freedoms or human rights.

An aisle-crossing political majority supports the law, which was first proposed after a TV2 documentary went undercover in Danish mosques and discovered widespread anti-democratic preaching.

The law does not apply to statements made in ordinary debate, but solely to those made in a context of religious education, and which are evangelical in nature. These sorts of statements can be made in a variety of settings, such as religious sermons, study groups or lessons, but also on social media such as Facebook, if the person making the statement has authority over the audience.

Both legal think-tank Justitia and the Institute for Human Rights argue that the law is written too broadly, however, and makes it difficult for people to know whether they are breaking the law or not.

“You need not be a religious preacher – the law will also apply in situations such as on Facebook when a debate can become evangelical, or in other private settings, so the context of the law is very unclear,” Justitia director Jacob Mchangama told Politiken newspaper.

Professor Lisbet Christoffersen, an expert in religious law at the University of Roskilde, also argues that the law might violate the constitution.

“We have ordinarily interpreted section 70 of the constitution to mean that we cannot use religion to discriminate in law or administration. But that’s what they are saying they want to do: religious organisations are being targeted. There is no reason given for why the law should not also target gang headquarters,” she told Politiken.


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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