Petition: Stop Denmark’s New Blasphemy Ban


Freedom of expression—including the freedom to mistreat religious artefacts, however crude that may be as a form of protest—is a vital cornerstone of free societies. Below, we are pleased to publish an open letter featuring many prominent signatories denouncing the Danish government’s proposal to criminalize the “improper treatment” of religious objects. By drawing attention to this worrying case we hope to underline the importance of defending hard-won liberties wherever they are threatened.

— The editors.

We, the undersigned, comprising a broad coalition of artists, academics, public intellectuals, and activists, are deeply concerned about the Danish government’s newly proposed bill criminalizing the “improper treatment of objects of significant religious importance to religious communities” with up to two years of imprisonment.

Denmark, in 2017, followed in the footsteps of other democratic nations like Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, and New Zealand by repealing its laws against blasphemy and religious offense. This repeal signified an important step towards safeguarding freedom of expression and maintaining a pluralistic society. The proposed Danish bill, in essence, reintroduces a ban on blasphemy, and is so broad as to include even artistic expressions.

The bill aligns Denmark with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has repeatedly called for international blasphemy laws that would severely undermine the protection of freedom of expression under international human rights law. The OIC includes states like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, where blasphemy is punishable by death. As recently as May 2023, two Iranian men faced such an extreme punishment for the alleged crime of burning the Koran, the very activity that the Danish government is seeking to prevent.

We are also deeply disappointed that the Danish government cites threats to national security as a motivating factor, in essence giving in to the Assassin’s Veto in the shape of OIC threats. This marks a sharp departure from the Danish government’s principled stand during the Cartoon Affair in 2006 and displays a lack of solidarity with other democratic countries who have chosen not to compromise their basic values despite threats to their citizens and institutions that have been an all-too-frequent feature of democracies since Ayatollah Khomeini’s Fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1988.

We agree that the burning of books, or any other form of destruction of religious objects, is often a crude and ineffective means of expression and a poor substitute for reasoned debate. We also categorically distance ourselves from the anti-Muslim bigotry that has frequently accompanied such acts. Racism, religious hatred, and intolerance are grave issues that demand attention from all who are committed to freedom, democracy, and equality. Nonetheless, we argue that the values of freedom of expression and of tolerance are not mutually exclusive but are, in fact, mutually reinforcing. Laws that restrict freedom of speech in the name of preventing offense inevitably undermine the democratic ideals they claim to protect, and they legitimize oppression at home and abroad.

We therefore strongly urge the Danish government to withdraw this dangerously misguided bill and to reaffirm its commitment to upholding freedom of expression as well as the dignity of all individuals, irrespective of their religion, race, ethnicity, or nationality.


Jacob Mchangama, Executive Director of the Future of Free Speech Project, Research Professor Vanderbilt University

Aatish Taseer, author, New York

AC Grayling, professor, CBE, UK

Agustina Del Campo, Director of the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression, CELE, Universidad de Palermo

Amna Khalid, associate professor, Department of History, Carleton College

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK

Andrew Solomon, author, New York

Art Spiegelmann, author and cartoonist, New York

Article 19, international human rights organization, London

Åsa Linderborg, author, journalist, Stockholm, Sweden

Ayad Akhtar, author and President of PEN/America, New York

Caroline Fourest, editorialist, writer, filmmaker, and director of Franc-Tireur

Catalina Botero Marino, Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurist and former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression-Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Organization of American States, Columbia

Cathrine Hasse, professor, Education, Aarhus University

Claire Fox, Director of the Academy of Ideas; Baroness Fox of Buckley

David Budtz Pedersen, professor, Science Communication, Aalborg University Copenhagen

Eduardo Bertoni, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression-Inter American Commision on Human Rights, Organization of American States, Uruguay

Eric Heinze, Professor of Law & Humanities, School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London

Eske Willerslev, professor, geneticist, University of Copenhagen; Cambridge University

Eugene Schoulgin, writer, Vice-President of PEN International, Oslo

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Founder and President of Ideas Beyond Borders, New York

Flemming Rose, chief editor, Frihedsbrevet, Copenhagen

Frederik Stjernfelt, professor, Aalborg University Copenhagen, co-director of the Humanomics Center

Gérard Biard, editor-in-chief, Charlie Hebdo, Paris

Glenn Bech, author, Denmark

Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, Washington DC

Hussain Abdul-Hussain, research fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Washington, DC

Ioanna Tourkochoriti, Associate Professor of Law, Associate Director at the Center for International and Comparative Law, University of Baltimore School of Law

James Hannaham, author, New York

Jean Lassègue, professor, philosopher, EHESS, Paris

Jens-Martin Eriksen, author, Copenhagen

Jino Doabi, politician, Copenhagen

Joel Simon, Founding Director of the Journalism Protection Initiative, Newmark School of Journalism, CUNY

Johannes Riis, publisher, Copenhagen

Jonas Nordin, Professor of Book and Library history, Lund University, Sweden

Jonathan Israel, professor, History, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study

Kacem El Ghazzali, essayist and secularist

Kathrine Tschemerinsky, editor, Weekendavisen, Copenhagen

Kenan Malik, author, columnist at the Observer, London

Kerem Altıparmak, human rights lawyer, Turkey

Kjersti Løken Stavrum, CEO and board member, Tinius Trust, Norway

Knut Olav Åmås, Executive Director of the Fritt Ord Foundation, Oslo

Mansour Al-Hadj, founding member of the Clarity Coalition

Maria Alyokhina, member of Pussy Riot, Russia

Martin Krasnik, editor-in-chief, Weekendavisen, Copenhagen

Martin Zerlang, professor, Modern Culture, University of Copenhagen

Maryam Namazie, spokesperson for One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, London

Mehdi Mozaffari, professor, Political Science, Aarhus University

Michael Shermer, publisher, Skeptic magazine, California

Molly Molinette, author, New York

Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law Emerita at New York Law School, past President of the American Civil Liberties Union

Nicholas Christakis, Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Yale University

Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, Washington DC

Øystein Sørensen, Professor of History, University of Oslo, Norway

Pascal Bruckner, author, Paris

Paul A. Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, University of Cambridge

Paul Cobley, professor, vice-dean, Semiotics, Middlesex University, London

Phyllis Chesler, author, emerita professor, City University of New York

Poul Erik Tøjner, CEO, Louisiana Modern Art Museum Denmark

Randall Kennedy, professor, Harvard Law School

Rens Bod, professor, Digital Humanities and History of Humanities, University of Amsterdam

Reza Aslan, author, Los Angeles, California

Richard Dawkins, emeritus professor, University of Oxford

Robyn E. Blumner, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, New York

Rune Lykkeberg, editor-in-chief, the Copenhagen daily Information

Sonja Biserko, Head of the Helsinki Committee, Belgrade, Serbia

Søren Ulrik Thomsen, author, poet, Copenhagen

Steve Fuller, professor, Philosophy of Science, University of Warwick, UK

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology, Harvard University

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN/America, New York

Svend Brinkmann, professor, Psychology, University of Aalborg

Tobias Wolff, author, Palo Alto, California

Uladzislau Belavusau, Senior Researcher in European Law, University of Amsterdam

Ulrik Langen, Professor of History, University of Copenhagen

William Nygaard, publisher, Oslo

Yascha Mounk, professor, Johns Hopkins University, founder of Persuasion, Washington DC

Yasmine Mohammed, President of Free Hearts Free Minds

Zuhdi Jasser, President and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy


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