18 May 2023, The Tablet

EU bishops welcome scrapping of Danish religion law

The “law on sermons” was first tabled in January 2021 at the height of Covid-related restrictions, amid fears of Islamist militancy. 

EU bishops welcome scrapping of Danish religion law

Denmark's Social Democrat prime minister Mette Frederiksen.
Danish State Chancellery

The Brussels-based commission representing the European Union’s Catholic bishops has welcomed withdrawal of a proposed law in Denmark, which would have required all religious statements and homilies to be translated into Danish. 

“This draft bill would have had negative implications for protection of religious freedom across Europe,” Bishop Mariano Crociata, Comece president, said in a statement.

“It would have entailed an undue hindrance to freedom of religion, a crucial pillar in the architecture of fundamental rights.” 

The Italian bishop was responding to a decision by the Social Democrat-led government of prime minister Mette Frederiksen to withdraw the “law on sermons”, tabled in January 2021 at the height of Covid-related restrictions amid fears of Islamist militancy. 

Bishop Crociata said Comece understood “the goal of preventing radicalisation and countering incitement to hatred and terrorism”, but believed measures like the proposed Danish law did not offer “the right kind of instrument” for doing so. 

Any such initiatives should avoid a “negative and discriminatory impact, particularly towards smaller religious denominations”, Bishop Crociata said, adding that Comece would continue monitoring “key national initiatives” that could “have a broad impact” on EU-wide religious freedom. 

The draft law, obliging religious communities – including Denmark's 270,000 Muslims – to make all public statements available in translation, was criticised by Denmark's Council of Churches for imposing “significant burdens” on religious minorities.

The predominant Evangelical Lutheran Church (or Folkekirken) warned that the law would provoke similar action against Danish congregations abroad.

In a statement, Denmark’s church affairs minister, Louise Schack, said the government had withdrawn the law, after concluding it could not meet a March request by the Danish People's Party to re-draft it to affect only Arabic-speaking mosques “loudly preaching against women, democracy, Jews and other minority groups”. 

The government’s decision to abandon the law was also welcomed by the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches, grouping 114 Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant denominations.

The conference said it had raised concerns with Frederiksen’s government two years ago, pointing out that using foreign languages formed part of the rights enshrined in the EU's 2007 Lisbon Treaty, as well as the Council of Europe's 2000 Charter of Regional and Minority Languages. 

Churches and human rights groups in Denmark have also criticised other recent laws obliging religious associations to submit detailed accounts and requiring personnel conducting weddings, including native-born Catholic and Lutheran clergy, to take a course in “understanding democracy and freedom”. 

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