A majority in the Dutch parliament, led by the ruling Labour Party, wants to scrap a law which fines or even imprisons people who commit blasphemy. But although the law isn't used anymore, even debating whether or not to scrap it is sensitive. The
Christian parties in Dutch politics have always argued to keep it on the books.
Now, tension is high in anticipation of far right Dutch MP Geert Wilders' film, which is expected to be considered blasphemous by most Muslims.
And although there's a majority for scrapping the law, government is not asked to get rid of it immediately.
Why has the ruling Labour Party chosen to go against the wishes of it's coalition partners in the government, and scrap a law which could be seen as protecting Muslims?
Labour Party MP Ton Heerts says there's never a good moment to scrap the law. He doesn't want to cause the Christian coalition parties any trouble, but, he says, It's a law that's been on the books for years, and is never used. At some point, we
should just get rid of it. The last conviction under the law took place more than forty years ago, when a student newspaper got the maximum fine of 100 guilders (40 euros) for making fun of the New Testament. And in the infamous "donkey" case
in 1968, confrontational Dutch author Gerard van het Reve fantasized about sexual relations with God who had taken the form of a donkey. The author was prosecuted for blasphemy, but the court acquitted him.
The current coalition government agreed as recently as October to leave the law as it is. Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Balin wants to tread carefully regarding the law against blasphemy. He says he doesnt want to dispose of a law that's meant to
reinforce mutual respect without giving it further thought.
Now, in the run-up to Geert Wilder's film about the Qur'an, some feel Muslims abroad will see the scrapping of the blasphemy law as confirmation of supposed Dutch islamophobia. But the law has never been used to prosecute blasphemy against other
religions. In fact, some legal experts wonder if it even applies to religions other than Christianity.
It remains to be seen if parliament will get its wish and gets the law taken off the books. In the Geert Wilders era, no one wants to be seen as encouraging blasphemy.
Justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Christian Democrats) has finally given into pressure and is to recommend that blasphemy is
no longer a criminal offence.
Although the law, which was brought in to protect Christians from being insulted is almost defunct, in the past the minister has believed it to be useful to protect Muslims from Islam-bashing, says Friday's Volkskrant.
The law was last used in 1968 against the writer Gerard Reve. He was found not guilty.
Hirsch Ballin had suggested expanding the current legislation to cover all religions but MPs were against the move, arguing it would conflict with freedom of speech, the Volkskrant says.
It appears we were a little hasty in celebrating the demise of the Dutch blasphemy laws.
Danish journalist Flemming Rose has contacted MWW, relating the concerns of a Dutch colleague about this supposed repeal. All is not as it seems.
The intention is to introduce the concept of indirect insult and expand an existing law which protects people on the basis of race, age, disability, and sexual orientation to include protection on the basis of religion or conviction . This means that remarks directed at Islam, Christianity, Buddism or - depending on your interpretation of
conviction - even homeopathy and astrology, could be interpreted as indirect insults to people, and prosecuted as such.
According to a commenter on the original story, this law carries a maximum sentence of 12 months, whereas the original defunct blasphemy law carried a maximum 3 month sentence.
This spring the Dutch minister of justice Hirsch Ballin wrote a note to parliament asking them to consider stiffening blasphemy laws. In the aftermath of the scandal surrounding the arrest of Gregorius Nekschot parliament
refused to go along, and this proposal is the compromise that the government came up with.
The parties in the governing coalition are divided on whether legislation forbidding blasphemy should be repealed. A majority of MPs are in
favour of scrapping the law. This makes it unclear how the question can be resolved as MPs cannot force the issue without causing a government crisis.
A motion to scrap the blasphemy law was tabled by the democrat party, D66, and supported by the coalition partner, Labour, and all opposition parties except for the small right-wing religious party, the SGP. However, the Christian Democrats and the
Christian Union, both members of the coalition, voted with the SGP to keep the law on the statute book.
Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin has already said he is in favour of repealing the blasphemy legislation. He wants to include religious groups in legislation designed to protect people from discrimination. However, it looks unlikely that such a
change would get the backing of a majority in parliament.
Despite a majority of MPs in the Dutch parliament wanting to repeal the country’s blasphemy law, the cabinet has decided that it must stay.
The decision follows a high court ruling earlier this year, in which a man was found not guilty of insulting an entire group of people on the grounds of their religion by hanging up a poster saying Stop the tumour that is Islam
The Government says that anti-discrimination legislation is inadequate.
Opposition MPs have submitted draft legislation to the Council of State advisory body to repeal the ban on blasphemy, the Volkskrant reported.
The ruling Labour party PvdA has already said it supports the change in the law, giving the proposal majority support in parliament.
Earlier this year justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin agreed to suspend the blasphemy laws and amend the discrimination legislation (article 137c) to make it a criminal offence to insult groups of people instead.
That plan followed a high court ruling earlier this year, in which a man was found not guilty of insulting an entire group of people on the grounds of their religion. He had hung up a poster with the text stop the tumour that is Islam ,
But MPs are still unhappy with the minister's proposals and have now drawn up their own legislation, the paper says.
Dutch plans to repeal a 1932 old style blasphemy law, which mandates a maximum sentence of three months in prison for a convicted scornful blasphemer,
have foundered in the latest round of party politics.
Governing parties have given up their hope to delete the law from Dutch jurisprudence in an apparent concession to a tiny fundamentalist Christian party, which emerged from elections this week holding the balance of power in the Senate,
parliament's less-powerful upper chamber.
Boris van der Ham, one of three lawmakers who proposed dumping the blasphemy law, called it a dead letter and a legal anachronism that no longer belongs in the progressive Netherlands. We don't think religious opinion should have more
protection than nonreligious opinion, he told The Associated Press.
But the strict Calvinist Political Reformed Party, or SGP, whose single senator now holds the key to success or failure for government legislation in the 75-seat Senate, thinks otherwise. The party's leader, Kees van der Staaij, is one of a
minority of people in this largely secular country of 16 million who publicly support the blasphemy law, which he calls the legal expression of the conviction that some things are holy. The name of God is holy, the party says on its
website. Insulting God, as he is portrayed in the Bible, must be combatted. The ban on blasphemy should be maintained.
But even though this old style blasphemy law has dropped into disuse, the Netherlands seem to have found a modern era replacement which talks in terms of insult and offence. The country's highest-profile court case of recent years has focussed on
allegedly hurtful comments made by maverick anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders about Islam. Wilders is on trial in Amsterdam on charges of making statements insulting to Muslims as a group, and inciting hatred against Muslims.
Dutch lawmakers appear to be having second thoughts about scrapping the nation's blasphemy laws.
Despite a majority of parties in parliament agreeing in 2012 that the law should be scrapped, there now seems to be a rethink in order to placate minority religions . The blasphemy law makes it a crime to insult God, the monarch or to be
disrespectful to a policeman. The legislation was introduced in the 1930s and has not been invoked for the past fifty years.
The Dutch parliament originally concluded that it was a threat to the nation's much-cherished freedom of speech, but now political necessity may change all that.
Now the Nos Television channel reports that doubts are creeping in among leaders of both main political parties. In a debate on Tuesday in the upper house of parliament, or senate, Labour senator Nico Schrijver said that repealing blasphemy laws
would result in minorities feeling insufficiently protected against their religious sensibilities being hurt.
Some suspect that the real reason the coalition Government is backtracking is because it recently agreed to work more closely with the minor religious parties ChristenUnie and SGP to ensure majority support for its economic policies. Both these
religious parties strongly oppose ending the ban on blasphemy.
The senate will vote on the plan next Tuesday. The motion was passed by a large majority in the lower house of parliament.
Blasphemy will be removed from the Dutch statute books following a majority vote in the upper house of parliament on Tuesday.
However, a second motion was voted through which allows for another law to be found which can be adjusted to protect people from serious insult to their religion.
Last week, the coalition partners Labour and Liberal VVD said they had doubts about plans to scrap the blasphemy law. During last week's debate in the upper house of parliament, Labour senator Nico Schrijver questioned whether scrapping the blasphemy
laws would offer minorities sufficient protection against their religious sensibilities being hurt.
Blasphemy has been on the statute books since 1932.