CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2006 International Conference
July 13-16, 2006
San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Religion, Globalization, and Conflict: International Perspectives

Religion, Women and Freedom of Speech in Denmark: Three Crucial Factors for a Healthy Society

by Irene Maria BRIONES MARTINEZ (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

A paper presented at the CESNUR 2006 International Conference. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author


The Constitution was passed in June 5th 1953, and this was the result of an evolution that started between 1848 -1949. However, the first Constitution in 1849 allowed the active suffrage only for male citizens.

In 1915, during the I World War, was reached a general consent in order to reform the Constitution. An important aspect of this reform brought the universal right to vote.   

Nowadays, the equality of gender is a main part of the Danish democracy for the last twenty eight years. The female individuals are being leaders in the social and economical development, and the religion is not an obstacle to this advance.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Nevertheless, The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church and the role of Religion offers a peculiar identity to the political and juridical system.

In spite of this state church, there are no restrictions on proselytizing or missionary work as long as practitioners obey the law and do not act inconsistently with public morality or order.

All schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. While the Evangelical Lutheran faith is taught in the public schools, a student may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent. The Section 76 of the Constitution protects the rights of parents to home school or educates their children in private schools. 


The Government considered legislative and administrative proposals to promote further social integration of refugees and immigrants. The proposals emerged out of widespread political and social attitudes favoring the integration of immigrants and refugees.

In June 2004, the Parliament enacted a law directed at foreign religious leaders seeking residence visas. The so called "Imam Law," which is applied by immigration authorities to all foreign religious leaders, requires that the number of religious residence visas be reasonably proportioned to the size of the corresponding religious community. Additionally, the visa applicant must prove association with a recognized or approved religious community and possess a relevant background or education as a religious preacher, missionary or member of a religious community. The Ministry for Refugees, Immigrants, and Integration continued to consider providing resources to establish schools to educate imams, similar to the support the Government provides Christian theological university programs or seminaries.

Reaction to the proposal in the Muslim community was mixed. Many young Muslims stated that the imams who come to the country on temporary visas do not speak Danish and cannot answer their questions or address the problems of being a young Muslim in the country. However, the Ministry declined to act on the initiative in the fall of 2004, choosing to wait until the country's divided Muslim community could organize to make its own proposal for publicly funded Islamic education.

The country has a long history of welcoming religious minorities and affording them equal treatment. In March 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) issued a report showing that Denmark is below the EU average in expressing resistance to multicultural society. 

Nonetheless, in September 2004, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights concluded in a report that the overall political climate for Muslims in the country has deteriorated since 2001. The integration of immigrant groups from Islamic countries is an important political and social topic of discussion.

Embassy officers engaged in a Muslim outreach program, which included numerous meetings with religious and community leaders of leading Muslim organizations in the country. Embassy officers had wide-ranging discussions with the Muslim leaders on topics such as religious and cultural diversity, democracy and freedom, and Muslim life in the United States. The Department of State has also sponsored Muslim citizens for International Visitors Programs.

On 20 September 2005, the Prime Minister held a dialogue meeting with a number of Muslim representatives – leaders of associations, politicians and imams. The meeting took its point of departure in last summer’s terrorist bombings in London and other terrorist actions. At the meeting there was general agreement that such extreme actions, committed by radical minority groups, must be condemned and opposed.

On 28 September 2005, the Minister for Integration held a meeting with a number of Islamic religious communities to discuss the religious leisure-time education on the Koran and Islam offered by the religious communities to children and adolescents. The purpose of this was to promote dialogue, integration and equality.

On 28 November 2005, the Minister for Integration held a dialogue meeting with women from the Islamic Religious Community in Denmark, the agenda of which was increased dialogue, bridge-building and integration, with special focus on Muslim women.

In his New Year speech on 1 January 2006, the Prime Minister condemned any expression, action or indication that attempts to demonise groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background. The Prime Minister stressed that each of us has a special responsibility to exercise freedom of speech in such a way as not tokindle hatred and shatter the sense of fellowship that is one of Denmark’s most characteristic features.

On 3 February 2006, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs held a meeting with the ambassadors to Denmark, at which they disseminated information about the current situation with regard to the international reactions to the publication of drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in the private newspaper Jyllands - Posten. The Ministers also reported on the Government’s position and measures taken in that matter[1].

On 13 February 2006, the Prime Minister held a meeting with a network of Muslims in Denmark. The purpose of the meeting was to encourage dialogue with Muslims in Denmark on, among other things, integration and the current situation.

During spring 2006, the Minister for Integration will participate in a series of activities designed to bring about dialogue on integration, which will include meeting young people from the ethnic minorities and immigrant women to hear about their experience of integration in practice. The Minister will also meet representatives of the local authorities and enterprises charged with contributing to the success of integration.


The Muhammad cartoons controversy began after twelve editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005. The newspaper explained that this publication was a contribution to debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. In response, Danish Muslim organizations held public protests. As the controversy grew, examples of the cartoons were reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries.

Critics of the cartoons describe them as islamophobic and argue that they are blasphemous to people of the Muslim faith, intended to humiliate a marginalized Danish minority.

On October 27, 2005, a number of Muslim organizations filed a complaint with the Danish police claiming that Jyllands-Posten had committed an offence under section 140 and 266b of the Danish Criminal Code[2].

Section 140 of the Criminal Code, known as the blasphemy law, prohibits disturbing public order by publicly ridiculing or insulting the dogmas of worship of any lawfully existing religious community in Denmark. Only one case has ever resulted in a sentence, a 1938 case involving an anti-Semitic group. The most recent case was in 1971 when a program director of Danmarks Radio was charged, but found not guilty.

Section 266b criminalises insult, threat or degradation of natural persons, by publicly and with malice attacking their race, color of skin, national or ethnical roots, faith or sexual orientation.

On 6 January 2006, the Regional Public Prosecutor in Viborg discontinued the investigation as he found no basis for concluding that the cartoons constituted a criminal offence. His reason is based on his finding that the article concerns a subject of public interest and, further, on Danish case law which extends editorial freedom to journalists when it comes to a subject of public interest. He stated that, in assessing what constitutes an offence, the right to freedom of speech must be taken into consideration. He stated that the right to freedom of speech must be exercised with the necessary respect for other human rights, including the right to protection against discrimination, insult and degradation, but no apparent violation of the law had occurred. In a new hearing, the Director of Public Prosecutors in Denmark agreed.

The Danish Government responds to letter of 24 November 2005 from UN Special Reporter on freedom of religion or belief, Ashma Hahangir, and UN Special Rapporteur on freedom forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr. Doudou Diéne, regarding cartoons representing the Prophet Mohammed published in a newspaper, and stated that the Government is focusing strongly on ensuring a society with mutual respect and shared democratic values. The Danish democracy is by its very nature inclusive to all cultures and religions.

The Prime Minister says that while old systems and outdated ideas and views fade and disappear. That is why the freedom of speech is so vital. And freedom of speech is absolute. It is not negotiable. However, we are all responsible for administering freedom of speech in such a manner that we do not incite to hatred and do not cause fragmentation of the community that is one o Denmark’s strengths.


The Government wants to create equal opportunities for women and men. Its aim is that women and men be seen as equals and enjoy equal opportunities for choosing the lives they want. The Government wants respect for diversity and respect for the individual’s personal choice[3].

Conversely, the campaign against forced marriages for women specially, affected every aspect of ethnic and religious minority integration in Denmark[4].

Girls in particular are at risk of clashing with their parents, because women traditionally have far less freedom of movement and self-determination than men. The parents’ desire to arrange marriages or choose marriage partners for young people may reflect their wish to retain the young people in a marital pattern and culture with which they are familiar. A forced marriage may be a reaction to longstanding generational and cultural conflict.

Danish People need to overcome their fear of involvement and reluctance to address the issue of forced marriages on the grounds that it is the religion and culture that dictate the practice. It is perfectly possible to respect other people’s religion and culture while making demands and working to prevent forced and arranged marriages that lead to unhappy family reunifications.

Already in June 2002, the government introduced legislative measures to intensify efforts to prevent forced and arranged marriages. Amendments were made to the immigration and marriage acts, raising the age requirement for family reunification marriage partners from 18 to 24. It was also decided that as a general rule, permission for family reunification will not be given if it is considered doubtful that the marriage was entered into according to the wishes of both partners. The changes in the rules have already proved highly effective, and no further legislative initiatives have therefore been taken in conjunction with this action plan.

It is important to build understanding between young people and their parents, and create opportunities for ethnic minority women to discuss forced marriages and choice of marriage partner as well as broader issues like gender roles and equality. We also need to promote greater understanding between ethnic minorities and the rest of society, the groundwork for long-term changes in attitude.

These divisive traditions are in the same heart of religious freedom, but the public rules in the western legal systems impose hard restrictions in the name of the public order and the equality of gender.

The Muslim People have a different approach on gender, and this is a barrier to get the integration in any European country, not only in Denmark. In this case, these governmental attitudes in face to a strange ethnic and religious customs and traditions in the Western societies are not a political obstruction for a religious culture, but a tool to obtain equal opportunities.

While these minorities consider their young people are becoming “too Danish”, and return them to the origin country, the Danish educational system try to change attitudes on young people and this situation creates serious conflicts between generations.


1.- The immigration offers a new map for all the countries around the world. The globalization is an access to the migration and also to an arena of religious and social combats.

2.- The freedom of speech and press is vital to gain more freedom and a free market of ideas and religions.

3.- The crucial factor to reach a healthy religious freedom is the respect of the religious diversity. In a country where it’s established the democracy, and at the same time, the state church enjoys a political responsability, the religious pluralism has a strong challenge.

4.- Muslim People live their religion like a global culture, and an authentic way of life. A greater part of this culture is not shared for the western society, for this reason the effort in order to coexist is higher.

5.- To ridicule the main principles of a religion is not the best way to achieve the integration between the different cultures, it is only a wrong step, and it is not justified for the freedom of speech and press, because the entire society has been deteriorated, and the  Denmark gave a public example of religious intolerance.

6.- In the other hand, Muslim People neither gave a example of a peaceful conduct because the violence is the worst way to resolve the religious conflicts, and the last war in Iraq has been the best illustration.

[1] Integration in Denmark. February 2006. http://www.um.dk/en/servicemenu/Publications/InformationAboutDenmark/FactSheets/


[3] 2005 report equality By Minister for Gender Equality Eva Kjer Hansen, submitted to the Danish Parliament on 28 February 2006

[4] The Government’s Action Plan for 2003-2005 on Forced, Quasi-forced and Arranged Marriages. Published by Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs.