Five Thoughts About the Repeal of Denmark's Blasphemy Ban

34 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2018 Last revised: 8 Feb 2018

See all articles by Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: January 29, 2018


In June 2017, Denmark repealed Article 140, its blasphemy ban. This came after a Danish prosecutor sought to charge a 42-year-old man under the blasphemy law for burning the Quran. The prosecution and repeal led to first shock and then rejoicing in the global community as another country abolished its blasphemy ban. The dominant narrative, however, is too simple. n this essay, I suggest five additional issues raised by the Danish blasphemy debate.

First, blasphemy ban opponents emphasized the impact of Denmark’s ban on the majority Muslim world. Is this concern empirically accurate? Even if there is a connection, should Denmark have to repeal its own ban because of outside pressure? Second, those celebrating repeal have not asked why the previous arrangement – a rarely used blasphemy ban – unraveled in 2017, a question worth asking if one wants to plot out the future of the movement against blasphemy bans. Third, some American critics of the prosecution pointed to a double standard because in 1997 Denmark refused to prosecute a TV show that burned a Bible on air. Are Bible and Quran burning really the same thing? Fourth, the Danes largely rejected the anti-appeasement language of the Danish cartoon controversy, instead asking whether repeal would enhance or hinder the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Denmark. What accounts for the change? Finally, repeal comes at the time many countries across Europe are using anti-terror laws to restrict speech (including, in one instance, Quran burning). Are Europeans, in abolishing blasphemy bans, simply trading one speech restriction for another?

Keywords: blasphemy, Denmark, Pakistan, culture wars, freedom of speech, appeasement, anti-terror laws

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Robert, Five Thoughts About the Repeal of Denmark's Blasphemy Ban (January 29, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Robert Kahn (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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