Iceland repeals blasphemy law, in move triggered by Charlie Hebdo murders

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

So reports the Iceland Monitor:

[T]hree Pirate Party MPs moved a bill before Alþingi [Iceland's parliament] to have the clause removed from the Icelandic Penal Code, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

The three MPs took to the Alþingi lectern today, one after another, while the vote was under way and declared, "I am Charlie Hebdo."

A statement on the Pirate Party website reads: "The Icelandic Parliament has issued the important message that freedom will not bow to bloody attacks."

The established (Lutheran) Church of Iceland supported the move, but "the Church of Iceland parish of Berunes (Eastern Iceland)," the Catholic church of Iceland, and the "'Fíladelfía' Pentecostal church" opposed it. The Catholic Church argued that blasphemy can "inflict[] 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?" As readers of the blog might gather, I think the answer is, "you bet they do." The freedom of expression guarantees the right to criticize—and mock—all beliefs, whether of secular ideologies (Communism, capitalism, feminism, environmentalism, nationalism, or what have you) or of religious ideologies.

The Pentecostal church statement also added,

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, [ridicule] and prejudice-inciting expression.

This is further evidence, I think, of just how amorphous and broad the term "hate speech" can be—a tool for suppressing criticism and condemnation not just of people but ideas.

(Note that the Pentecostal church quote in the original Iceland Monitor story spoke of "irony" rather than "ridicule"; but when I asked the Iceland Monitor whether the translation was quite right, I was told that "The Icelandic word in question in the quote you mention is 'háð', the standard dictionary definition of which is indeed 'irony'. The noun 'háð' is, however, linked etymologically to the verb 'hæðast', which is usually used in the sense of 'sneer at, mock'. While the more conservative translation was selected for the original article in English, I feel it could be equally legitimate to have used 'mockery' or 'ridicule' instead. This certainly squares equally well (if not better) with the conceptual thrust of the statement." I therefore replaced "irony" from the quote with "[ridicule].")

Thanks to Louis Offen for the pointer.

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