Norway Repeals Its Blasphemy Law

While we see blasphemy laws used in Muslim countries (and a few predominately Christian ones as well) to destroy lives and silence criticism of religion, some Western nations still such laws on the books even if they’re never actually used. One such country, Norway, has repealed its blasphemy law to send a message:

Back in 1933, Norwegian writer Arnulf Øverland – pictured above addressing Christian students in 1962 – was the last person to be prosecuted under Norway’s blasphemy law for giving a lecture titled ‘Christianity, the tenth plague’. He was acquitted.

However, blasphemy remained a “crime” in Norway – until this week, when it was reported here that Norway had scrapped the law in a direct response to January’s brutal attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The proposal to rush through the change was made by Conservative MP Anders B Werp and Progress Party MP Jan Arild Ellingsen, who argued that the law:

Underpins a perception that religious expressions and symbols are entitled to a special protection. This is very unfortunate signal to send, and it is time that society clearly stands up for freedom of speech.

The decision to push through the change was attacked as “cultural suicide” by Finn Jarle Sæle, editor of the Norwegian Christian weekly, Norge IDAG.

Of course it was. And let’s not kid ourselves that this is unique to Muslim countries. While the worst abuse happens there, we have also seen in recent years the use of blasphemy laws to censor speech or art critical of Christianity in Greece, Russia and other countries.

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  • Modusoperandi


  • Gretchen

    Underpins a perception that religious expressions and symbols are entitled to a special protection. This is very unfortunate signal to send

    Holy crap. Blasphemy is not illegal in America (thanks, First Amendment), but I’m pretty certain that I will live out my life and die before an American legislator will say anything like the above while striking down special protections for religious expression (which are all over the place in America, despite said lack of anti-blasphemy law).

  • sumdum

    I had to check to be sure, the Netherlands repealed its blasphemy law in February 2014. Yay!

  • donkensler

    Ed, did you know our home state of Michigan has a blasphemy law on the books (MCL 750.102-750.103)? Are you surprised? One could make a career out of working to repeal all of the archaic 19th century laws that remain on the books in Michigan.

  • Callinectes

    @ #4 donkensler

    I understand that laws remain on the books even when they are repealed, it just adds another law to the books asserting that specified previous laws are no longer in effect. So whenever I hear a claim that this law or that is on the books, I am left none the wiser as to whether they are in effect, and given that federal law supersedes state law, you can effectively have a law on one set of books that is repealed in an entirely different set of books.

  • John Pieret

    In more or less related good news and bad news:

    Charlie Hebdo magazine received a controversial freedom of expression award from American PEN on Tuesday night despite the vocal opposition of many of its own high-profile members.

    The French satirical weekly – eight of whose staff and four others were killed in January when its offices in Paris were attacked by Islamist gunmen – was given the PEN American Center’s Toni and James C Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage award to a standing ovation from novelists, journalists and publishers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. …

    The decision to honour Charlie Hebdo has bitterly divided the literary community, with over 200 members of PEN signing a letter that said: “there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.”

    The magazine’s critics, including Peter Carey, Teju Cole and Rachel Kushner, who led a boycott of Tuesday’s event, said it that used racist stereotypes against the most marginalised members of French society, an accusation the editors reject.

    That protest caused heated debate, with Salman Rushdie – who lived under a fatwa from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for a decade for writing the supposedly blasphemous Satanic Verses – described those who opposed PEN’s award as “fellow travelers” of the Islamic extremists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staff, and argued on Facebook: “I fear some old friendships will break on this wheel.”

  • Alverant

    It’s no surprise that christians are opposed to repealing blasphemy laws.

    IIRC there was a case in NY in the 19th century where a man was found guilty of blasphemy and fined. The judge said it was OK to blaspheme against Buddhism or Islam because they were false religions but you couldn’t against christianity because it was the “one true faith”. So not even the 1st amendment can protect everyone against christian privilege.

  • StevoR

    Go Norway! Well done albeit long overdue!

    FWIW Australia abolished all its blasphemy laws since at least 1991 :

    and hasn’t had a prosecuted case since 1919. Although oddly my own state of South Australia seems a bit confused mainly because the issue just doesn’t appear to register at all.

    (I expect Canada, New Zealand and many other parts of the former British empire have much the same situation here.)

  • StevoR

    PS. Blasphemy may still be covered in Oz under hate speech laws such as the Anti-Discrimination Act (1991). & the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) so I guess that’s a confusion / complication here which may similarly apply in Norway and elsewhere generally too.

    Plus common law so, hmm.. maybe not as straightforward as I first thought.

    The wikipedia page on Blasphemy law makes interesting reading and viewing here.

  • donkensler

    Callinectes@ #5

    I’m not sure how things work in other jurisdictions, but in Michigan when a law is repealed the language is removed from the Michigan Compiled Laws and the relevant section will say REPEALED in all caps, with a cite to the date of repeal and the Public Law that effected the repeal, so if the language is still there it means the legislature hasn’t done anything about repealing it. Now it could have been declared unconstitutional (as it no doubt would be if a prosecution under it were to be attempted), because AFAICT they don’t remove the language of unconstitutional laws from the published MCL. So, despite Lawrence, the anti-sodomy law (which BTW is also a law against bestiality as well as being unconstitutionally vague IMHO) remains.

  • mordred

    Sigh, here in Germany we still have a blasphemy law. I see little chance of that changing, with the Christian Democrats stuck in government.

    Actually some of our conservatives used CH as an excuse to plead for strengthening the law which has not been enforced for quite some time…

  • heddle


    It’s no surprise that christians are opposed to repealing blasphemy laws.

    It is a surprise to me, giving that I am a Christian and I vehemently oppose blasphemy laws. And given that at no point, ever, in my Christian experience, have I heard one sermon/talk/Sunday-school lobby for blasphemy laws, nor have I know even one Christian in person who ever expressed support for blasphemy laws.

    Generalize much?

    IIRC there was a case in NY in the 19th century where a man was found guilty of blasphemy and fined.

    The 19th fucking century?

  • heddle

    heddle #12,

    nor have I know even one Christian in person who ever expressed support for blasphemy laws.

    Actually, in thinking about it, I do/did know some Rushdoony/North type theonomy lunatics. They would certainly favor blasphemy laws. However, my point stands that it is easy to find Christians who do not support blasphemy laws.

  • Alverant

    Well gee heddle, aren’t you generalizing by talking about christians who don’t support blasphemy laws?

    Since homosexuality is considered a form of blasphemy you’re leaving out all those homophobic christians. Ditto with all the christians who want their, and only their, holiday displays on government property because other religions are also blasphemous. Have you looked outside the US? Why shouldn’t Uganda’s anti-gay laws fall under the heading of blasphemy laws? My point stands that it is very easy to find places where the majority of christians supporting blasphemy laws.

  • Paul Durrant

    Good for Norway. England and Wales repealed their blasphemy law in 2008, but Scotland and Northern Ireland still have one on the books. (The last prosecution in Scotland was apparently in 1843!)

  • heddle


    I didn’t generalize, you did. Perhaps when you wrote

    It’s no surprise that christians are opposed to repealing blasphemy laws.

    you actually meant

    It’s no surprise that you can find some christians who are opposed to repealing blasphemy laws.

  • Artor
  • heddle

    Artor #17,

    Too far back for your memory? How about last fucking year?

    Neither is a blasphemy law, so no– nothing from last fucking year.

    In case it is not clear to you, Every (misbegotten) law that is used to curtail free speech is not a blasphemy law. All animals are not horses.

    The teenager (according to your link) violated a “1972 Pennsylvania statute that criminalizes “defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.””

    That is very broad. It is not limited to Christian icons or religious icons.

    In the second case, your link reports

    suggesting that some inflammatory material on Islam might run afoul of federal civil rights laws.

    Here ( inflammatory speech) is being questioned as a potential civil rights violation, not blasphemy.

    Now if you look hard enough maybe you can find cases of blasphemy laws being applied somewhere in the US in the last year. It’s a big country. But your two examples are piss poor.