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Relief as Denmark’s translation law dropped  

19 May 2023

Law would have required all religious statements to be translated into Danish

Ivars Kupcis/WCC

The general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen

The general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen

EUROPEAN church leaders have welcomed the scrapping of a draft new law in Denmark, which would have countered militancy by requiring all religious statements to be translated into Danish.

“This law, with its intersecting effects on Church, State, and society, should raise flags of caution for any church community; it was a response to a very few radical Muslim preachers who spread hatred and division,” the Danish general secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, said.

“While I totally agree that this kind of attitude must be encountered and dealt with, the law targeted all religious communities preaching in languages other than Danish — it was unacceptable and unnecessary.”

Dr Sørensen, an Evangelical pastor, was reacting to a decision by the Social-Democrat-led government of the Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, to withdraw the “Law on Sermons”, tabled in January 2021 at the height of Covid-related restrictions, amid fears of Islamic militancy.

The law’s cancellation was also welcomed by the Commission of European Union Bishops’ Conferences (COMECE), which said that it had not been the “right kind of instrument” for “preventing radicalisation and incitement to hatred and terrorism”.

“Any initiative concerning this area should avoid any negative and discriminatory impact,” COMECE’s Italian president, Bishop Mariano Crociata, said, “particularly towards smaller religious denominations, often formed of immigrant communities.”

The draft law, obliging religious communities — including Denmark’s 270,000 Muslims — to make all public statements available in translation, was criticised by the national Council of Churches for imposing “significant burdens” on religious minorities, as well as by the national Evangelical Lutheran Church, which warned that the law would risk similar action against Danish congregations abroad.

In a statement, the Danish Church Affairs Minister, Louise Schack Elholm, said that the government was withdrawing the law, after concluding that it could not meet a March request by the Danish People’s Party for it to be redrafted to affect only Arabic-speaking mosques “loudly preaching against women, democracy, Jews, and other minority groups”.

Dr Sørensen said that the CEC, which includes 114 Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations, had raised concerns with Mr 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.

The draft law was criticised as “illiberal” by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, as well as by the Lutheran World Federation, a communion of 148 member-Churches, which warned that it contradicted international law and could “further escalate the adoption of similar restrictive measures globally”.

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