Iceland scraps its blasphemy law
Churches in Iceland – with the exception of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland headed by Agnes M Sigurðardóttir, above – have reacted with outrage to the news that the country is to repeal its blasphemy law.
According to this report, the Lutherans, Iceland’s national church, was supportive of the Pirate Party’s campaign to scrap the 75-year-old law. It said that:
Any legislative power limiting freedom of expression … is at variance with modern-day attitudes towards human rights and the view that freedom of expression is one of the most important cornerstones of democracy and freedom.
It added that it thought it was:
Fundamental to a free society that people should be able to express themselves without fear of punishment.
But the Catholic church of Iceland, the Pentecostal church and a section of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland’s eastern province all opposed the plan to repeal the law.
The Catholics said:
For people of faith, religion and the image of God are important aspects of their existence, identity and dignity, and this should be protected by law.
Should freedom of expression go so far as to mean that the identity of a person of faith can be freely insulted, then the personal freedom – as individuals or groups – is also undermined.
Unlimited and unrestricted freedom of expression, without any sense of responsibility or natural social constraints, may lead to psychological abuse of individuals or groups. The Catholic church in Iceland cannot and will not accept this new possibility of inflicting psychological abuse on individuals or groups.
The “Fíladelfía” Pentecostal church asked:
Does a person’s human rights include the right to mock the beliefs of others? Do people really need the right openly to incite contempt for a given group of people on the grounds of their faith?
Repealing existing legislation on blasphemy is tantamount to legalising hate speech. Current legislation does not ban freedom of expression or criticism of religion – it bans parody, irony and prejudice-inciting expression.
But according to the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, the new law passed to repeal the blasphemy legislation contained provisions prohibiting hate speech.
The bill that introduced the repeal read:
Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of democracy. It is fundamental to a free society that people should be able to express themselves without fear of punishment, whether from the authorities or from other people.
For the record, Icelanders are a pretty godless bunch. A 2011 Gallup Poll found it to be one of the world’s most irreligious nations, with 60 per cent of the population saying religion was unimportant in their daily lives.
And Sigurðardóttir is a liberal who declared in 2013 that the Icelandic church had dropped its moral and theological objections to homosexual conduct in 2010 and now is a whole-hearted supporter of gay rights.
She was speaking after a row erupted when it became known the the church planned to participate in a Reykjavík Festival of Hope rally led by the anti-gay US evangelist Franklin Graham, who recently switched his account from one gay-friendly bank to another.
Hat tip: Marcus Robinson, BarrieJohn, Paul & Trevor Blake.