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  • June 2016 : UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Denmark potentially ’not in line with the modern understanding of freedom of religion or belief.’

From 13th to 22nd March 2016, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Dr. Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, visited Denmark as part of his standing mandate and invitation to identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles. During his visit, Dr. Bielefeldt consulted with politicians, academics, human rights advocates, representatives from the church, and leaders from religious minorities.
On March 22nd, he published his preliminary findings. They may serve as an excellent update on the Danish situation as regards refugees and Muslim minorities. Not only because Dr. Bielefeldt touches upon these issues in his preliminary report, but because these issues are hot topics in the Danish discourse and debate. The Danish government is presently – that is, after the report – exploring the possibility of tightening legislation on religious freedom and freedom of speech – issues that are of outmost concern to the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief.
While Bielefeldt notes that the Danish system is obviously non-egalitarian and, for historic and pragmatic reasons, gives preference to the Church of Denmark, some substantial issues concerning matters of practice and teaching are ”examples of a possibly too narrow understanding of what religion can entail and, accordingly, what freedom of religion as a human right should cover.” .
On recent events directly involving the freedom of religion and expression, Dr Bielefeldt observes : ”Muslims interlocutors expressed their dismay at the swift public reactions by some politicians after a recently broadcast TV documentary (“Under the Veil of the Mosque”) that had unmasked some extremist views existing among some Imams in Denmark. Without denying that such religious extremism warrants a clear political response, the Muslims were taken aback by the promptness of harsh rhetorical reactions which somehow targeted the Muslim communities as a whole, for instance by freezing a project of mosque construction. Moreover, some leading politicians made cryptic statements about putting an end to policies of tolerance without specifying what that means. When discussing such experiences, I also sensed anxieties among Muslims that the currently elaborated new rules concerning the acknowledgment of religious communities could be used in the future to strip Muslim communities from their achieved status positions in Denmark or to develop new tool for controlling religions and in particular Islam. This illustrates a need for more dialogue and trust-building between State institutions and Muslim organizations to prevent an atmosphere of increasing suspicion.”
Critically, Dr. Bielefeldt notes that, ”Some of the remarks made by leading politicians in reaction to the TV documentary could hypothetically indicate a political move back to a literal understanding of article 67 of the Constitution, including its far-reaching limitation clause that “nothing at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done”. As mentioned at the outset, however, this would not be in line with the modern understanding of freedom of religion or belief, which does not give free reigns to legislators to impose limitations whenever “public order” interests may be at stake. For limitations to be justifiable, a much more refined set of criteria must be met to ensure that limitations always remain exceptions to the rule that human beings should exercise their rights to freedom, including in the area of religion or belief.”

  • 5 November 2007 : Registration of newborns via the national church considered not discriminatory to non-members

On November 5th 2007 the Danish Supreme Court judged that the current rules about direct state subsidies to the Danish national church and the fact that all newborns must be registered at a local parish office (except in Southern Jutland) was not contrary to the European Human Rights Convention. A Catholic male had brought the case for the Supreme Court as he found it discriminatory that he paid to the Danish National Church through his income taxes even though he was not a member. He also found it discriminatory that he had to register his newborn daughter to the central personal register through an office of the Danish national church.

According to the Supreme Court the registration of newborns via the national church is a non-religious function of the church on behalf of the Danish state and hence not discriminatory to non-members. According to the Supreme Court the money paid by non-members through normal taxes to the national church are not discriminatory for two reasons : firstly the church provides services to the state (such as registration of newborns and funeral services) which is paid for through the state subsidies. Secondly, the payment of taxes (some of which are used to subsidies the national church) do not limit the freedom of religion of non-members as it is an indirect support (unlike church taxes).

D 11 janvier 2017    ANiels Valdemar Vinding

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