Pastors in Denmark are concerned that a proposed law requiring all sermons to be translated into Danish and submitted to the government would trample their religious liberty and freedom of speech.
Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says the legislation is intended to restrict the spread of Islamic extremism within the country, but Thomas B. Mikkelsen, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance Denmark, argued that the law will probably not be effective in that regard.
“Radical groups tend to establish themselves on the margins, in a parallel society, and never apply for official recognition,” he said. “I do not think a new law will affect them in any way.”
Faith leaders are also worried that, if the law were to pass, the government would be able to police any language deemed politically incorrect.
“I believe this overly restrictive step would constitute a limitation on freedom of expression, which I know is prized in Denmark, as one of the world’s oldest democracies,” Anglican Bishop Robert Innes of the European dioceses wrote in a letter to Frederiksen.
“In a democratic society I would hope the government would strive for better cooperation with religious organizations than hastily resorting to legislation interfering with their freedoms,” he later told the Guardian.
The Reverend Christian Krieger, president of the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches (CEC), also penned a letter to Frederiken expressing concern:
“Politically, CEC sees such legislation as an unreasonably negative signal in relation to religion and the role of religious communities in society,” he wrote. “Furthermore, it would be an indicator to non-Danish, European nations and Christian communities that their religious practice and presence in Denmark are questioned and deemed unequivocally problematic.”
It is unclear whether the law would require sermon translations to be sent to the government before or after being given, but Innes explained that translations in general can be precarious.
“Preachers don’t always write full text of their sermons, they might write notes,” Innes said. “They might preach extempore … and there are questions of idiom and nuance which requires a high level of skill in translation of course. It is a high bar.”
Denmark’s parliament is expected to debate the legislation in the coming days.