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2020

October 2020: Legislative Agenda of the Social Democrat Minority Government
On October 6, 2020, with the opening of the new parliamentary year 2020-2021, the Social Democrat minority government (...)

  • October 2020: Legislative Agenda of the Social Democrat Minority Government

On October 6, 2020, with the opening of the new parliamentary year 2020-2021, the Social Democrat minority government announced its legislative agenda for the coming year. This new agenda includes three important legal changes, which have been underway for a while.
First, the Ministry of Aliens and Integration aims to criminalise donations from foreign donors included on a list of undemocratic organisations. (See ”Denmark to criminalise foreign funding for mosques in effort to ’counter extremism’”, Middle East Monitor, 27 October 2020). This initiative is not a new thing. A broad political agreement to prevent financial contributions from Gulf States has already been proposed in 2016 after the documentary Mosques behind the veil, showing hidden camera footage from a number of Danish mosques, created intense debate. See Sinclair, Kirstine, “What Goes on in the Mosque? Or: A Tale of Two Tongued Imams,” Center for Mellemøststudier News Analysis, April 2016.) The specific drafting of the bill was troublesome, because it is difficult to target contributions to mosques perceived to be extremist, while not affecting contributions to for instance the Catholic churches, which are generally perceived as unproblematic. Different models were thoroughly treated in a 2017 report of the Ministry of Immigration and Integration Affairs, Åbenhed om udenlandske donationer til trossamfund og religiøse foreninger. Rapport fra arbejdsgruppe om større gennemsigtighed med udenlandske donationer til trossamfund m.v., but when the bill was presented in Parliament in 2019/2020, in the midst of a number of media stories about mosques receiving funding from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the political treatment of the bill was discontinued due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The bill does not specify whether mosques receiving imams salaried by the Turkish Diyanet would be included. This will be an administrative decision.
Another bill with the political intention to regulate the Muslim field was presented by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs as a proposal for an ‘Act on sermons in languages other than Danish.’ The purpose of the bill, which would require all sermons to be translated to Danish, is to create greater openness of religious preachers in Denmark speaking in languages other than Danish. The bill has not yet been presented, but from what has been argued by the Minister and the Social Democrat spokesperson, it has already led to controversy because of the consequence it may have for some Christian churches, for instance the German-speaking Lutheran congregations within the Church of Denmark.
Finally, the Ministry of Aliens and Integration also presented an ‘Amendment of the Penal Code, the Passport Act and the Aliens Act’ in order to strengthen the efforts against negative social control. The Ministry suggests adding an explicit reference to negative social control in the provision of the Penal Code on psychological violence, and to make negative social control explicit in the form of retention in a marriage by means of religious divorce contracts. Also, it proposes to ban religious marriages of minors and tighten penalties and deportation rules against those who try to detain a person in a forced marriage. This bill is also part of a longer-running strategy to prevent negative or honour-related social control, amidst media debates on religious marriages and divorces.
One of the most controversial initiatives, the introduction of an age limit of 18 years for male circumcision, has, however, not been presented by the government but is the result of a citizen’s initiative (B 7 Forslag til folketingsbeslutning om indførelse af 18-årsmindstealder for omskæring af raske børn (borgerforslag). On the basis of 50,000 signatures, the parliament must take up a discussion. The bill has, however, not been adopted as it is not supported by either the Social Democratic minority government or by the largest opposition party, the Liberal Party.

  • March 2020: Religion and Covid-19 in Denmark

As in many other countries lock-downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic have massively affected religious communities in Denmark. Because the majority Lutheran church is considered part of the public sector, churches were closed and personnel sent home on 11 March, when all non-essential public buildings were closed down. Religious communities were strongly encouraged to do the same (see Politi) until a decree imposed from March 18 also formally closed the buildings belonging to religious minorities. The measures had a massive impact on religious life in Denmark. All Easter celebrations were cancelled, as were Friday prayers and activities during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark also decided to postpone all confirmation ceremonies until after Pentecost Monday (1 June 2020, see Politi).

As of May 18, the Church of Denmark and religious communities are allowed to re-open their buildings, but must still respect the March 18 policy of social distancing which in general sets a maximum to crowds of 10 people, but allows for more people under specific circumstances, including in religious buildings (1 person per 4 m², see here).

A controversy took place in the second-largest city Aarhus, when a mosque was given a stand-alone to broadcast the call to prayer and did this following the sound of church bells from the local church. The local branch of the organization Generation Identitær held a protest action the following day, leading a group of about 30 Muslims to break the social distancing clause by commuting to prayer the day after. The police arrived too late to catch any of the praying offenders, while the members of Generation Identitær face fines. The organization has also protested at a Zoom Ramadan dinner showing signs saying ‘Stop Islamization’. The dinner was in addition interrupted by unknown activists who managed to air Child molestation of a sexual character for a few seconds.

Precautions taken due to the pandemic led to a temporary suspension of the requirement to shake hand to accept Danish citizenship through nationalization (see The New York Times).

D 10 December 2020    ALene Kühle

2019

May 2019: Ritual slaughter
The debate on ritual slaughter in Denmark is placed in relation to two dimensions. Denmark is on the one hand a major producer of meat products to several Muslim (...)

  • May 2019: Ritual slaughter

The debate on ritual slaughter in Denmark is placed in relation to two dimensions. Denmark is on the one hand a major producer of meat products to several Muslim countries (Emirates, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia as well as several countries in North Africa). Debates on animal welfare is on the other hand strongly positioned in Denmark, and as a member of the EU, where The Regulation No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 endorses a concern for “avoiding animals pain, distress or suffering during their killing and related operations” (Art. 3). In order to address this concern, slaughter without stunning was prohibited by Executive Order 135 issued on 14 February 2014.
By Executive Order 135,
- Slaugthering of cattle, sheeps, goats and chicken must take place in a slaughterhouse.
- Slaugthering must be reported to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.
- Slaugthering must include the cutting of the two jugular veins and carotid arteries manually or mechanically with a sharp instrument immediately after the animal has been stunned to allow the animal to die from bleeding.

There is in addition a number of more specific demands, including that the use of a non-penetrating stunner is allowed under certain conditions (e.g. not allowed for cattle less than 8 months old and for bulls more than 24 months) and that cattle must be restrained standing in a box. The regulation did not change the basic conditions of slaughtering of chickens, where stunning had already been obligatory according to regulation 583 of 6.6.2007, although the slaughtering of chickens without stunning had been allowed by the previous regulation 1037 of 14.12.1994.

This Executive Order was conceived by some as prohibiting kosher as well as halal slaughter. A number of prominent Muslim organisations criticized it heavily, including Danish Halal, an organisation allegedly representing 53 Muslims organisations. The Jewish Community also criticized it. The criticism was picked up by several international media. (See for The Independent and The Guardian.) Most media stories, however, missed two important details. First, while the slaughter of cattle and sheep without stunning could be performed before Executive Order 135 was issued, it was only through an exception from the general law and nobody had asked to be granted this exemption for many years. In fact, slaughter without stunning had not been performed since a slaughterhouse in Slagelse, who slaughered both halal and kosher meat, went bankrupt in 2004.

Secondly, the Executive Order in fact sets up regulations for religious slaughter, pointing out that this requires pre-stunning and that meat from animals slaughtered according to the regulation on religious rituals is expected to be sold to a population who requests meat slaughtered according to religious rituals.

Executive Order 135 in this way attempts to strike a compromise between Danish export interests and animal welfare considerations. The Executive order efficiently bans slaughter according to kosher regulations, but in regard to halal, it places itself in the middle of a long-running conflict among Danish Muslims as to what constitutes halal.

Conflicts over the definition of halal

Danish Halal was formed a couple of years ago, on the claim that the control done by the Muslim organization issuing halal certification for Danish exports, Islamic Cultural Center, to ensure that halal meat lived up to its name, was not legitimate. The issue was that on several occasions, Islamic Cultural Center had accepted the use of penetrating shunning. Islamic Cultural Center later changed its description of legitimate halal procedures to clarify that only non-penetrating stunning is acceptable in Islam. Regulation 135 actualized this discussion as Ben Yones Essabar, the chairman of Danish Halal and member of the board of Islamisk Trossamfund, one of the largest mosques in Denmark, claimed that if the animal is stunned it is not halal slaughter and Muslims should not eat it. The imam of the Islamic Cultural Center claimed, on the other hand, that this type of stunning is acceptable and lives up to the rules of halal slaughter. This imam, Khalil Jaffar Mushib, claimed that a fatwa making slaughter with stunning acceptable as halal had been issued years back. Danish Halal collected 20,000 signatures (out of a population of about 300,000) against Regulation 135, but with no effect.

The story on the alleged ban on religious slaughter in Denmark went global. The fact that the media story was reposted again in 2015 in Times Magazine, which by mistake presented it as a new story (Andreasen 2015), support an interpretation of religious slaughter as a topic of high emotional and symbolic importance.

References: Andreassen, Andreas Marckmann 2015 ”TIME retter fejl om dansk halal- og kosher-forbud”, Journalisten, 31.07.2015.

D 17 May 2019    ALene Kühle

2018

31 May 2018: the ban on face covering
On May 31st, a majority in the Danish Parliament has adopted a ban on face covering, which in effect is and has been discussed as a ban on wearing niqab or (...)

  • 31 May 2018: the ban on face covering

On May 31st, a majority in the Danish Parliament has adopted a ban on face covering, which in effect is and has been discussed as a ban on wearing niqab or burka.

The ban, which amends the Danish Criminal Code, comes after renewed discussions which took place in 2017 and 2018. The question of criminalizing the wearing of a burka or niqab was discussed in 2009 and 2010, but the debate quieted down after a scholarly report had concluded that a maximum of 200 women were wearing a burka or a niqab in Denmark.

There are currently no case law or reports on whether the amended article in the Criminal Code has been in use yet. The applicability of the article has been significantly limited and does not apply, where a qualifying purpose is found.

The bill that amends the Criminal Code article 134 (c) now sounds like this:

’§ 134 c. The person who in a public place wears clothing that conceals the face is punished with a fine. Subsection 2. The prohibition referred to in subsection 1 shall not apply to the covering of the face which serves a qualifying purpose. ’ (See the bill with comments, in Danish)

On the ‘qualifying purpose,’ and in the comments to the bill, the Ministry of Justice unfolds the applicability of the ban.

“3.2.3. The prohibition of wearing clothing that conceals the face, will not apply when concealing the face serves a credible purpose.

It will depend on a concrete assessment in each case of the concealing of the face, as covered by the prohibition, if it serves a qualifying purpose. In an assessment of this, emphasis will be placed on the nature of the garment, the actual use and the situation in which the garment is worn.

Outside a context where a cover of the face serves a qualifying purpose, such a cover will be prohibited. The fact that a person is on his way to or from a place or context, etc., where face covering serves a qualified purpose, does not in itself make it possible to cover the face during normal transportation thereto or therefrom.

As an example of covering the face that serves a qualified purpose, it may be mentioned that a person wearing a scarf, hat and the like for protection against cold will not be subject to the prohibition if, as the case - considering the seasons and weather conditions - must be considered as usual and reasonable attire.

As a rule, the prohibition does not include costumes and masks used in carnival, regular games, Halloween, dressing parties, sports events and the like. In addition, the prohibition does not apply for example to masks and helmets in connection with hunting, fishing, sports and the like – such as safety or camouflage equipment - if used in the usual and reasonable manner.

The prohibition does not include, for example, medical dressings and the like, due to health reasons. It can also serve a qualified purpose to cover the face in a concrete working context, if it happens in a customary and fair manner, as the case may be. This may include the use of protective or security equipment or the like, e.g. protective helmet and respiratory protection. It may also serve a qualified purpose when, for example, staff in a shop, a shopping mall, etc. is dressed in a "store mask" or the like, if done in a usual and reasonable manner.

Incidentally, covering of the face will obviously serve a qualified purpose if the cover is made in compliance with legal requirements and the like, for example, traffic law rules for the use of a helmet when driving a motorcycle etc.

To the extent that a cover of the face in itself is regarded as an expression of opinion it may be protected by freedom of speech. This should be included in the assessment of whether the cover serves a qualifying purpose.

Similarly, it will be included in the assessment whether a cover of the face occurs in a way - and in a concrete context - closely related to the exercise of religious freedom, etc. It is assumed that the covering of the face for religious reasons as a clear starting point is not prohibited when it comes to a specific religious act or the like, for example, in a religious building or in connection with a wedding or funeral ritual, etc. Outside of such concrete religious contexts - including, for example, normal transport to and from the place of a religious act -, it will not suffice to refer to the fact that a covering of the face is for religious reasons.…”

In this commentary by the Ministry of Justice, it is quite clear that circumstances to which the ban applies are limited, and there is great room for interpretation by the individual police officer – also in the light of dress-up parties, freedom of speech and freedom of religion (albeit in a narrow interpretation). In addition, it is left up to the individual officer to asses if this is at all a criminal matter or a matter for social services:

“If the police suspect that the person is subject to negative social control, for example, in connection with a breach of the ban on cover, i.e., because the person expresses compulsion or other pressure to wear face-covering clothing, then the police must assess whether there is a basis for investigating a criminal offense or whether the person should be offered help and support, and so on.”

All in all, this bill and amendment are designed – in part – to provoke and discourage the ‘Islamist elements’ and – in part – to satisfy right wing politicians and voters. Obviously, symbolic uses both of them.

Looking through the whole text of the commentary, clearly they ‘pulled the teeth’ of this particular ‘barking dog,’ long before it was ever enacted.

It is doubtful whether we will see in Denmark any serious such cases. If we do, it will be by activists – i.e. the ‘Women in Dialogue group’ who showed up in parliament wearing the full veil – who will deliberately seek to test the limits of the bill in law enforcement and in the courts.

Niels Valdemar Vinding
  • 2 March 2018: The Mariam Mosque – a women-led mosque in Copenhagen

Local as well as international media showed up, when the (alleged) first women-led mosque in all of Scandinavia officially opened in February 2016. The opening of a new mosque is actually not very unusual in Denmark as the total number of mosques in the country has risen from approximately 115 in 2006 to approximately 170 a decade later (Kühle Lene & Malik Larsen, Moskéer i Danmark II, 2017). The obvious reason for the massive media coverage was of course that the mosque in question differentiated itself from the vast majority of Danish and European mosques by having a number of female imams leading an all-women congregation during Friday prayer. While the Mariam Mosque is the first mosque to have clear-cut female imams, it is not the first mosque in Denmark with Friday prayer exclusively for women. This title belongs to a much less-known Shiite mosque in Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark. The women behind this mosque had already been gathering faithful for about ten years, when the Mariam Mosque opened in 2016, and still meet several times a week to pray or listen to preaches held in turn by the all-women attendants. In the months after the opening of the Mariam Mosque, it was subject to both Muslim and non-Muslim debate – in the latter, often as an important expression of a necessary reformation of Islam, which is more in sync with Western values such as gender equality. The reception from their fellow Muslims was less supportive, though, and consisted of a combination of criticising and passively ignoring. The criticism has, revolved around the rejection of a statement made by the leading female imam, Sherin Khankan, saying that Danish mosques needed to challenge patriarchal structures and make more room for the women. Other imams, publicly known as ‘moderate’ or ‘liberal’, have also criticised the theology of the Mariam Mosque. One example of the Mariam Mosques’ non-mainstream theology is their inter-religious marriages between Muslim women and Christian or Jewish men, which, according to the majority of Muslims, is only permitted in the reverse constellation. This characteristic was partly the reason for the departure from the project, in the summer of 2017, of one of the two founding female imams (the one who held the very first preach in the mosque), due to theological disagreements. The women-led mosque has proclaimed to be deeply inspired by Sufism, also known as Islamic spiritualism.

The Mariam Mosque is situated in a large apartment next to the shopping main street in the heart of Copenhagen, made available by the well-known photographer and speaker, Jacob Holdt. Their central location does not, however, mean that the activities of the mosque include daily prayers or even weekly Friday sermons. Since the opening, the mosque has only been open for public prayer once a month, which might be partly explained by the mainstream Islamic opinion that Friday prayer is only mandatory for men, and not for women. The low frequency of activities, combined with the low number of participants (usually no more than 20 people), makes it reasonable to ask whether this is a ‘real’ mosque or not. The initiators behind the project undoubtedly perceive it as a mosque, and have from the beginning declared that in time it should not only make service for women but also for men, which is already the case in terms of other activities than Friday prayer. During their first two years, they have performed more than a dozen Islamic weddings and a handful of divorces. None of these have civic validity, though, because they have not yet obtained formal state recognition, which grants the right to perform legally recognised marriages and divorces. However, this is one of their goals in the nearest future. Some of their other activities include Islamic spiritual care and therapy, Islamic meditation also known as dhikr, and hosting visits from public schools and other institutions.

In 2017, the mosque expanded its activities by establishing an Islamic academy called MIA (the Mariam Mosque’s Islamic Academy), which offers shorter lessons in various subjects such as Islamic feminism or Islamic philosophy. The teachings are held by people both from inside and outside the Mariam Mosque network, some of them researchers from the University of Copenhagen. The academy is especially (but not exclusively) directed towards women who have shown interest in becoming female imams. In order to be taken into consideration as a future imam, the candidates have to present previous academic merits from so-called relevant studies (for instance psychology or Islamic studies) from ordinary Western universities. This example of intertwining knowledge from different types of reasoning that is normally thought of as differentiated (for instance understood as scientific vs. religious), seems to be one of the silver linings of the entire Mariam Mosque project.

Malik Larsen

D 20 June 2018    AMalik Larsen ANiels Valdemar Vinding

2016

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, (...)

  • 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.”

Read the full preliminary report.

  • March 2016: Mosques and radical Islam

In March 2016, the Danish media network TV2 aired a three part documentary called Mosques behind the Veil. Using hidden camera photography and undercover investigators, the documentary argues that some mosques in Denmark are working against integration policies, and that a parallel society is growing in the mosque and the surrounding society. While controversial at some points, the documentary sparked great political and societal debate and a legislative agenda against radicalizing imams has been proposed by the government to be enacted later in 2016.

D 7 April 2016    ANiels Valdemar Vinding

2015

September 2015: 10 years after the Danish Muhammad cartoons controversy
Today, 30 September 2015, we observe the 10 year anniversary of the publications of 12 editorial cartoons in (...)

  • September 2015: 10 years after the Danish Muhammad cartoons controversy

Today, 30 September 2015, we observe the 10 year anniversary of the publications of 12 editorial cartoons in Jyllands-Posten. The cartoons were originally commissioned as an attempt to contribute to the debate about legitimate criticism of Islam, freedom of speech and self-censorship. The cartoons were accompanied by an article by the culture section editor, Flemming Rose, titled “The Face of Muhammad.” Rose wrote on 30 September 2005:

“Modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where one must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. ... we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him.”

Today, the debate continues in Denmark and it focuses on three things; firstly, what is the state of freedom of expression today in Denmark especially when it comes to religion, and in relation, secondly, should editors re-run the cartoons on the occasion of the 10 year anniversary, and thirdly should teachers in primary and secondary schools show and teach the cartoons as part of recent Danish history?

This morning, Jyllands-Posten ran the exact same page and text as they did 10 years ago, but this time all the 12 cartoons had been censored away leaving only an outline of where they used to be. Flemming Rose’s text quoted above remained. None of the major Danish newspapers are running the cartoons again, although most of them have done so before, and the arguments on behalf of the editors in chief run are different, but loosely related. Some say that the security risk and the risk to human life outweighs the journalistic value of running the cartoons again. Others say, that this is part of history and that people can look up the cartoons, if they want to see them. Despite this, it is worth noting that Information, a mainly intellectual newspaper, spends five pages in their paper, including an editorial, on the cartoons. Berlingske Tidende, a major Danish daily newspaper, covers the story in six pages, and Jyllands-Posten covers the story in 15 pages including both the editorial and the op-ed. The overall sentiment seems to be that the cartoons are still dangerous. And this sparks debate from critics and politicians, especially, when it comes to freedom of speech in the face of Islamic fundamentalism.

Naser Khader, a Danish politician of Syrian origin, member of parliament with the conservatives and a key figure in defense of democracy and freedom of speech during 2005 and 2006, argues strongly in favor of printing the cartoons again. “The cartoons are to me the symbol of freedom of speech over no freedom […] One must remember that only 14 per cent of the world’s population enjoys full freedom of speech. Therefore it is important to defend. Is it an unnecessary provocation? No, it is a celebration.” (‘A case for eternity,’ in Berlingske Tidende, 20 September 2015). As a part of this celebration, Naser Khader promised to – and did – bring the cartoons on his Facebook page.

Frederik Stjernfeldt, a professor at University of Copenhagen, argues that,

“Most Western media have become afraid to do satire of religion especially when it comes to Islam. Today very few newspapers in Denmark and only at special occasions are doing satirical cartoons about Islam. Caricatures of the prophets are not seen. It is a terrible consequence of the Muhammad crisis. There should be not special right for religions.” (‘The Muhammad crisis has severed public opinion,’ in Information, 25 September 2015)

Stjernfeldt expands on his remarks in todays Information, and in the name of a qualified freedom of speech, he calls for,

“… [a] coordinated reprinting of controversial things jointly in many papers and media – it could e.g. happen here on the 10 year anniversary. If everyone prints in solidarity then no one will to a significant degree find themselves in the searchlight of the terrorists … ” (‘Ten years after the Muhammad cartoons: fundamentialism and a culture of violation,’ in Information, 30 September 2015).

In this context, it is worth noting that 93 percent of Danish Muslims believe Jyllands-Posten was wrong to publish the controversial cartoons. For the general population, some 57.6 percent say Jyllands-Posten was right to print the drawings, compared to the 47 percent who felt the same back in 2006. (‘Danish Muslims still against Mohammed drawings,’ Copenhagen Post, 30 September 2015).

The debate about freedom of speech continues, and currently takes its focus on whether Danish teachers should show the cartoons as part of the curriculum. The newspaper Berlingske Tidende quotes a poll saying that 57 per cent of Danes agree that primary and secondary school students should see that cartoons as part of the teachings. A head of schools leaders’ organization, Claus Hjortsdal, argues against it: “Well, now, the schools are not crawling with terrorists. But there are pupils who are more fundamentally inclined than others. This goes for some Muslim pupils, but also to a significant degree inner missions Christians, Jews and confessors of other religions. The cartoons would easily provoke and that is not the task of the school.” (’Danes: Show the Cartoons in School’, Berlingske Tidende, 20 September 2015). In March 2015, the public schools’ association for religion teachers, Religionslærerforeningen, has urged that the controversial Mohammed Cartoons should become part of the public school curriculum as quickly as possible. Several political parties – including Social Democrats, Danish People’s Party (DF) and the Conservatives – have voiced their support for that idea, although the degree of support varies. (‘Politicians want Mohammed Cartoons to be part of school curriculum’, Copenhagen Post, 6 March 2015).

Niels Valdemar Vinding
  • March 2015: attacks in Copenhaguen

On the 14th and 15th of February 2015 two attacks took place in Copenhagen. The first attack was at the cultural venue Krudttønden, where an event with the title Kunst, Blasfemi og Ytringsfrihed (Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression) was taking place. The event was organized by the Lars Wilks committee, and the Swedish cartoonist Lars Wilks, involved in a controversy concerning drawings of Muhammed, attended the event. During the attack, one person was killed. The attacker fled the area. The second attack happened at the Synagogue shortly after midnight. Here, a Synagogue guard was shot and killed. Following both attacks, a named suspect was identified, and later shot and killed by the police. The suspected attacker was therefore never put on trial. His motives for the attack were supposedly linked to radicalized views. The attack and the response of the police, especially in relation to the protection of the Synagogue prompted discussions concerning the protection of religious minorities in general and the Jewish community specifically in relation to prior attacks in Paris.

Marie Vejrup Nielsen

D 22 October 2015    AMarie Vejrup Nielsen ANiels Valdemar Vinding

2014

February 2014 : Changes to animal slaughter procedures cause debate concerning religious minorities in Denmark
During 2013 there has been a discussion concerning a ban on slaughtering animals (...)

February 2014 : Changes to animal slaughter procedures cause debate concerning religious minorities in Denmark

During 2013 there has been a discussion concerning a ban on slaughtering animals without prior stunning, that is, without anaesthetization of the animal before the actual slaughter. The Minister of Agriculture had put forward a proposition for a ban, and the ban was implemented February 17th, 2014.
The new regulations are summarized as follows on the ministerial website (in Danish):

“On 17 February 2014 a decree which requires stunning prior to slaughter according to religious precepts was implemented. According to the regulations, it is permitted to slaughter animals according to religious ritual, as long as the animal is stunned first. Many animals are halal slaughtered in Denmark, but for the last 10 years this has not been done without prior stunning. With this new regulation, Denmark follows in the wake of a number of other European countries, including Norway and Sweden, which have similar provisions for stunning prior to slaughter. It is still allowed to import meat from animals slaughtered without prior stunning.”

The media debates concerning the ban have primarily touched upon issues concerning religious minorities, primarily Jewish and Muslim groups, and their access to meat, that has been slaughtered according to their religious rituals. A very small minority group, that of the Mandeans, has also been involved in the debate. They are the only group to have previously applied officially for a permit to slaughter without prior stunning. According to the media debate, no Muslim or Jewish groups have applied, and one of the arguments of the ban has therefore been that it will not affect the lives of these groups since they were not relying on the now banned slaughtering practice. In response to the debate the Minister affirms that the law has been changed primarily because of considerations of animal welfare. He furthermore stresses that this is not a ban on all ritual practice, but that it concerns only the specific issue of lack of anaesthetization. These debates can be linked to ongoing debates concerning halal meat in public institutions in Denmark, currently related to the so-called “meat ball-crisis” of 2013, where the issue was raised concerning pork meat in public institutions such as kindergartens and hospitals. The international response has focused on the protection of the rights of religious minorities, as can be seen by the article linked below.

For articles concerning the media debate see:
- ethik (in Danish, title in English “Ritual slaughter – the Minister does not understand criticism of ban"),
- Berlingske (in Danish, title in English: "Ban on slaughter received well by Venstre" [Danish Liberal Political Party])
- the Jerusalem Post (in English)

D 3 March 2014    AMarie Vejrup Nielsen

2013

7 March 2013: Copenhagen atheists want burials in non-religious plots
The atheist association Ateistisk Selskab* has launched a petition to put pressure on Copenhagen City Council, with the next (...)

  • 7 March 2013: Copenhagen atheists want burials in non-religious plots

The atheist association Ateistisk Selskab* has launched a petition to put pressure on Copenhagen City Council, with the next meeting taking place next summer, for it to provide the necessary funds to create a burial plot reserved for atheists in Vestre Kirkegård cemetery, the largest in the city. A plot of 6,000 square metres had already been allocated to them in 2008, but the project, unpopular with the political authorities, had failed due to lack of funding. Today, the ground is abandoned. The association emphasises that each year 6,500 inhabitants in Copenhagen leave the Church of Denmark and that less than 50% of newborns are registered in its records. It insists on respect for the diversity of beliefs. The cemetery already possesses a Jewish and a Muslim burial plot. Atheists want to be buried as they lived, i.e. free of religion.

*The largest association of non-believers in Denmark (1,100 members in August 2012). Founded in 2002, it is intended to be apolitical and is part of the “Atheist Alliance International” network.

For further information, see: The Copenhagen Post, 7 March 2013.

  • 2013 witnessed several debates connected to the implementation of same-sex marriage in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (Folkekirken). The law was implemented in June 2013. Before this, there were several discussions concerning both the issue of a marriage ritual for same-sex couples in the church, and the issue of the relationship between state and church regarding such changes. Denmark had previously a church ritual for the blessing of same-sex couples. The new law concerns a legally binding marriage ritual for same-sex couples, providing equal opportunities for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. At the same time, a law was passed allowing pastors the right to refuse to perform the ritual.
  • In 2013-2014, a committee was appointed by the government and designated to work on a modernization of the structure of the church, including the relationship between church and state. This caused several debates concerning the relationship between church and state, which have primarily concerned the question of a national church council. The Danish national church does not have a synod or a national level of representation. The primary national level of the church is therefore the parliament and the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs. The debates have focused on pros and cons in establishing a separate church council.
  • In 2013, there was a great deal of focus on a Danish poet, Yahya Hassan, who writes poetry about his life as a child of Muslim immigrants of Palestinian background in Denmark. He became known for his harsh criticism of his childhood, which includes some remarks about Islam. They fuelled both public debate and some incidents, making Hassan’s book the best-selling work ever of poetry by a debutant in Denmark.

D 11 April 2013   

2007

2 November 2007: The ombundsman criticises the Danish Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs
In a press release from November 2nd 2007, the Danish ombudsmand, Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen criticises the (...)

  • 2 November 2007: The ombundsman criticises the Danish Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs

In a press release from November 2nd 2007, the Danish ombudsmand, Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen criticises the Danish Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs [Kirkeministeriet] and the Bishop of Viborg Stift for relieving a priest of his job. The priest had accepted money (inheritance) from people of his parish and even though the Bishop found no trace of foul play he decided to release him of his duties as parish priest as he no longer had the trust [of the Bishop and the parish]. The decision was later approved by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. No criminal charges were brought against the priest. The ombudsmand criticised the case, as the relieving of the priest of his duties as a priest stigmatised him, but deciding not to bring the case before a court left the priest with no opportunity of proving his innocence.

Original press release can be found on the website of the ombundsman (Danish only).

  • 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 15 November 2007   

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