Arnulf Øverland, who in 1933 was the last person to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Norway. He was acquitted. Photo: Aage Storløkken/NTB Scanpix
Norway has scrapped its longstanding blasphemy law, meaning it is now legal to mock the beliefs of others, 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 in February 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 two wrote in their proposal.
Norway’s parliament first voted to scrap the blasphemy law back in 2009, against strong opposition from the Christian Democrat party. But the move has yet to come into force because the country’s new penal code remains delayed by problems updating the computer systems used by police and prosecutors.
The decision to push through the change was attacked as “cultural suicide” by Finn Jarle Sæle, editor of the Norwegian Christian weekly, Norge IDAG.
But the change will be largely symbolic.
The last time anyone was tried for blasphemy in Norway was back in 1933, when the writer Arnulf Overland was prosecuted for giving a lecture titled "Christianity, the tenth plague" to the Norwegian Students' Society. He was acquitted.
The last time anyone was actually convicted was in 1912, when the journalist Arnfred Olsen was taken to court for an article criticising Christianity in the radical magazine Freethinkers.