Blasphemy in Europe news
Three pieces of blasphemy news from Europe today, and they are all good.
Firstly, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the body’s constitutional law experts, advised that “blasphemy” should not be a criminal offence. They affirmed that blasphemy is part of a person’s freedom of expression, and was thus protected speech. “Incitement to religious hatred” on the other hand, should be illegal.
Secondly, the Norwegian parliament voted overwhelmingly to remove the “blasphemy paragraph” from a raft of new legislation. It was replaced with an additional paragraph on racism. Only the Christian People’s Party wanted blasphemy to be formally criminalised, as a “symbolic law.”
Finally, the counter-intuitively good news from the Netherlands is that the cabinet has dropped plans to scrap the current blasphemy law. Why is this good news? Because, as we reported back in November 2008, the blasphemy law was set to be replaced by something much worse.
The intention is to introduce the concept of “indirect insult” and expand an existing law which protects people on the basis of race, age, disability, and sexual orientation to include protection on the basis of religion or “conviction”. This means that remarks directed at Islam, Christianity, Buddism or – depending on your interpretation of “conviction” – even homeopathy and astrology, could be interpreted as indirect insults to people, and prosecuted as such.
The new law would have carried a far stiffer sentence, too.
Ultimately, the Dutch blasphemy law has to be repealed. But in the meantime, the status quo is preferable to the free-speech disaster that could have replaced it.