The Return of Blasphemy Laws?

Ah, Denmark, once famous for free speech, now on the cutting edge of re-instituting prosecutions for blasphemy.

"Blasphemy." Etymologically, the word means "speaking evil," but to our enlightened ears it has a quaint ring to it. I mean, when was the last time you heard about someone being prosecuted for blasphemy? How old-fashioned.

In Denmark, the last time a person was prosecuted for blasphemy was in 1971, when two people were hauled up before a judge for a song making fun of Christianity. They were acquitted. To find someone actually convicted of blasphemy (the statute against it in Denmark goes back to 1866) you have to go back to 1946, when a chap went to a party dressed as a priest and pretended to baptize a doll.

The current tort, it is almost superfluous to say, does not involve Christianity but -- yes! You guessed it -- the Religion of Peace, aka Islam, the religion that has so often demonstrated its pacific nature in recent years, for example back in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published some cartoons making fun of Mohammad. Result: adherents of this most benign religion rioted around the world, burned various Danish embassies, and left a trail of murder and mayhem that left some 200 people dead.

This time, an as-yet-unnamed person (his name will not be released unless he is convicted) posted a video of himself burning a Koran to a Facebook page called “Yes to Freedom -- No to Islam.” A caption to the video (since removed) reads: “Consider your neighbor, it stinks when it burns.”

What will happen? The case was brought by a regional prosecutor, but had to be approved by Denmark's attorney general. If convicted, the Koran-burning fellow could face up to four months in prison and a fine.

It is a strange situation. Ever since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the West has been increasingly successful in consigning religious violence to the dustbin of history.

How strange, then, to find ourselves in the opening decades of the 21st century once again conjuring with demands for the reimposition of laws against blasphemy.

As I noted recently in The New Criterion, such deployments of blasphemy laws are part of a larger movement to abridge free speech.  Like the House of the Lord, I noted, it is a movement that has many mansions.

Some are frankly religious, or at least theocratic, in origin, as in the tireless campaigns undertaken to promulgate laws against blasphemy by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The OIC represents fifty-six Muslim countries and the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations and other organs of transnational progressivism.

Other interdictions against “blasphemy” are of a more secular, but no less dogmatic, character, as in the strictures against so-called “hate speech” on campus and anywhere else that political correctness triumphs.