The Pirate Party, which has just three MPs in the Icelandic parliament but is leading in opinion polls, has had its first bill signed into law, decriminalizing “blasphemy.” Churches opposed the move.
The motion passed by the Iceland’s parliament repealed a 75-year-old blasphemy law, which made “ridicule or insult” of the doctrine of legally recognized religious community a crime punishable by a fine or a prison term of up to three months.
The bill was introduced by the Pirate Party in January in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. As the vote was under way on Thursday in the Althing, all three MPs from the party stood before fellow legislators and declared “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with the French satirical publication, The Iceland Monitor reported.
One MP voted against the bill, while three abstained. All four are from the current ruling coalition.
In decriminalizing blasphemy, Iceland is following the example of Norway, which passed a similar measure in May in a gesture of support for freedom of expression.
Several churches opposed Iceland repealing the 75-year-old blasphemy law, arguing that it would pave the way to hate speech.
“Unlimited and unrestricted freedom of expression, without any sense of responsibility or natural social constraints, may lead to psychological abuse of individuals or groups. The Catholic Church in Iceland cannot and will not accept this new possibility of inflicting psychological abuse on individuals or groups,” the church said in a statement.
The passage of the law scores a legislative victory for the Pirate Party, which is enjoying skyrocketing popularity this year. It won only 3 seats in the 63-seat legislative body in the 2013 general election, barely scoring 5 percent of the votes. But, according to the latest Gallup poll, it would have 24 seats if the new election were held today.
With the approval rating of the party surpassing 34 percent, making it the country’s most popular political party, veteran politicians appear to be worried about the Pirates’ growing power.
“If general discontent led to a revolutionary party – a party with some very unclear ideas about democracy, and a party which wants to upheave the foundations of society – becoming influential, that would be cause for concern for society as a whole,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said in an interview on Friday.
The PM’s Progressive Party is viewed favorably by just 8.9 percent of Icelanders, according to the Gallup poll, while its partner in government coalition, the Independence Party, has a 23 percent approval rating.