At UN, humanists urge Finland to decriminalize “blasphemy”

  • post Type / Advocacy News
  • Date / 31 March 2023

During the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists International and its Finnish members, the Finnish Humanist Association and the Union of Freethinkers of Finland, have called on Finland to repeal its laws against ‘public blasphemy.’

Antti Värri, Vice President of The Union of Freethinkers of Finland, delivered the statement by video intervention on behalf of the three humanist organizations, during the adoption of Finland’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report.

Under section 10 of Finland’s Penal Code, any act of “public blasphemy” against God or the “public defamation or desecration of what is held to be sacred by a church or religious community” is met by a maximum sentence of 6 months in prison. A survey conducted in 2021 by Finland’s state broadcaster, YLE, seemed to indicate a lack of political will to reform the law, with a majority of Finland’s parliamentarians indicating they were not in favor of repealing the law against blasphemy, and many citing concerns related to the maintenance of “public order.”

Antti Värri delivers the statement at the UN

During his intervention, Värri emphasized that, by maintaining its law against blasphemy, Finland was in breach of international human rights standards on the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. Urging the law’s repeal, he made the argument that discrimination and hate speech against individuals should be regulated under existing hate speech laws, and should be regarded as entirely separate from the legitimate criticism and questioning of ideas, religions, historical figures or gods.

The organizations also called for the privileged status of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Finnish Orthodox Church to be revoked, arguing that the special status of the Church enables systematic discrimination, including acts of forced worship in schools.

The Finnish Humanist Association and the Union of Freethinkers of Finland attended Humanists International’s 2022 workshop on the UPR, and submitted a joint written statement ahead of Finland’s UPR. The UPR is a process that examines the human rights performance of all UN Member States once every five years and aims to hold States’ accountable for their human rights violations.

Photo by Kieran Sheehan on Unsplash

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