Iceland Legalizes Blasphemy

Birgitta Jonsdottir of The Pirate Party

Birgitta Jonsdottir of The Pirate Party

The Icelandic parliament removed a 75-year-old law against blasphemy last Thursday, in response to last winter’s Charlie Hebdo attack in France.

The blasphemy law, on the books since 1940, made “ridiculing or insulting the dogmas or worship of a lawfully existing religious community” an offense punishable by a fine or up to three months in jail.

A bill calling for its removal was introduced by the Pirate Party, whose three members are the smallest political party in Iceland. However, latest polling shows they are currently the most popular among voters, and could be swept into power come next year’s election.

One Pirate Party parliamentarian is Birgitta Jonsdottir, a free speech advocate who helped script and edit the Wikileaks video “Collateral Murder,” made from American military footage leaked by Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea. That video showed the killing of Iraqi civilians and journalists by fire from United States Army helicopter gunships.

Removing Iceland’s blasphemy law had support from a wide coalition of groups. The Lutheran Church, who in 2012 elected a female Bishop for its leadership role for the first time ever in its thousand-year history, was a major backer.

However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland’s eastern province, along with the Catholic and Pentecostal churches, were against the law’s removal.

The law legalizing blasphemy also contained hate speech provisions that would protect religious groups from persecution, noted the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. Religious groups are also protected under already-existing hate speech laws.

Others argued removing the law was important to prevent Muslim countries, who have enacted Sharia law, from countering criticism by pointing to Iceland’s blasphemy law as being equivalent.

Before Thursday’s vote, all three Pirate Party members got up in parliament and declared, “I am Charlie Hebdo.”

The bill was adopted after 43 of 63 members of parliament voted in favor. One lawmaker voted against, 16 were absent and three abstained.

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