from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Sad Story of Denmark and the End of Religious Freedom

February 20, 2014

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Seventy years ago last fall, in October 1943, Danes acted with courage to defy the Nazi occupiers and rescue the country’s Jews. It was a striking blow for religious freedom and basic human decency. The rescue is a wonderful story that has brought honor and glory to Denmark ever since.

This week the Danish parliament did what it could to reverse that reputation. It passed a bill outlawing halal and kosher slaughter entirely. What of religious freedom now? "Animal rights come before religion," said Minister of Agriculture and Food Dan Jorgensen.

But not really: only days before, a giraffe in the Copenhagen zoo was slaughtered before the eyes of children visiting the zoo: "After an autopsy, ’Marius’ was dismembered in front of a zoo audience that included children, and fed to the zoo’s lions," CNN reported. So slaughter is possible: just not when Jews and Muslims do it in accordance with religious ritual. The new law is an act of religious intolerance, with a dose of radical chic added in. "No Jews or Muslims welcome here" is the message. It’s true that kosher meat slaughtered elsewhere can be imported, but that may be a temporary reprieve that could be reversed in future laws-- and ritual circumcision of Jewish children may be outlawed as well. Last month, "The Danish College of General Practitioners, a group with 3,000 members, made a statement that ritual circumcision of boys was tantamount to abuse and mutilation." That decision (under widespread consideration in Europe) would quite simply eliminate the practice of Judaism. This is a far more gentle way of ridding Europe of Jews than was practiced in the 1930s and 1940s, but would be very effective, and a judenrein Europe would be the result.

Once upon a time Europe was a Christian continent, which for centuries made it unwelcoming to Jews. Briefly that changed, after the Holocaust and under the influence of innovations like Vatican II; the period from 1945 to perhaps 2005 was a golden age. But like most golden ages, it has passed. This assault on Judaism is, of course, part of a broader assault on religion, all religions, including Christianity, and the biblical understanding of life. The basic idea is that religion is primitive and ignorant and must be repressed. This is a militant form of secularism and while Muslims and Jews are today’s victims, there will be many more tomorrow.

The fight is on in the United States as well, but we have the great advantage of the First Amendment, including these words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." By contrast the Danish constitution says "The citizens shall be entitled to form congregations for the worship of God in a manner consistent with their convictions, provided that nothing at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done" and "No person shall for reasons of his creed or descent be deprived of access to complete enjoyment of his civic and political rights." That’s much narrower: worshiping God in accordance with your own church or synagogue or mosque ritual is a very narrow concept compared to "free exercise." Jews in Denmark will still be able to vote, and go to synagogue; they just won’t be able to practice Judaism.

The idea that religion (and religious freedom) are limited to fixed hours and forms of worship is subversive of free exercise, and what Denmark is doing now proves it. Criminalize kosher slaughter and circumcision and you are criminalizing Judaism.

Denmark has a glorious history of protecting a persecuted minority. And now, seventy years later, it joins the persecutors.

 

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