Elliott Abrams

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Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Sad Story of Denmark and the End of Religious Freedom

by Elliott Abrams
February 20, 2014


Seventy years ago last fall, in October 1943, Danes acted with courage to defy the Nazi occupiers and rescue the country’s Jews. It was a striking blow for religious freedom and basic human decency. The rescue is a wonderful story that has brought honor and glory to Denmark ever since.

This week the Danish parliament did what it could to reverse that reputation. It passed a bill outlawing halal and kosher slaughter entirely. What of religious freedom now? “Animal rights come before religion,” said Minister of Agriculture and Food Dan Jorgensen.

But not really: only days before, a giraffe in the Copenhagen zoo was slaughtered before the eyes of children visiting the zoo: “After an autopsy, ‘Marius’ was dismembered in front of a zoo audience that included children, and fed to the zoo’s lions,” CNN reported. So slaughter is possible: just not when Jews and Muslims do it in accordance with religious ritual. The new law is an act of religious intolerance, with a dose of radical chic added in. “No Jews or Muslims welcome here” is the message. It’s true that kosher meat slaughtered elsewhere can be imported, but that may be a temporary reprieve that could be reversed in future laws– and ritual circumcision of Jewish children may be outlawed as well. Last month, “The Danish College of General Practitioners, a group with 3,000 members, made a statement that ritual circumcision of boys was tantamount to abuse and mutilation.” That decision (under widespread consideration in Europe) would quite simply eliminate the practice of Judaism. This is a far more gentle way of ridding Europe of Jews than was practiced in the 1930s and 1940s, but would be very effective, and a judenrein Europe would be the result.

Once upon a time Europe was a Christian continent, which for centuries made it unwelcoming to Jews. Briefly that changed, after the Holocaust and under the influence of innovations like Vatican II; the period from 1945 to perhaps 2005 was a golden age. But like most golden ages, it has passed. This assault on Judaism is, of course, part of a broader assault on religion, all religions, including Christianity, and the biblical understanding of life. The basic idea is that religion is primitive and ignorant and must be repressed. This is a militant form of secularism and while Muslims and Jews are today’s victims, there will be many more tomorrow.

The fight is on in the United States as well, but we have the great advantage of the First Amendment, including these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” By contrast the Danish constitution says “The citizens shall be entitled to form congregations for the worship of God in a manner consistent with their convictions, provided that nothing at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done” and “No person shall for reasons of his creed or descent be deprived of access to complete enjoyment of his civic and political rights.” That’s much narrower: worshiping God in accordance with your own church or synagogue or mosque ritual is a very narrow concept compared to “free exercise.” Jews in Denmark will still be able to vote, and go to synagogue; they just won’t be able to practice Judaism.

The idea that religion (and religious freedom) are limited to fixed hours and forms of worship is subversive of free exercise, and what Denmark is doing now proves it. Criminalize kosher slaughter and circumcision and you are criminalizing Judaism.

Denmark has a glorious history of protecting a persecuted minority. And now, seventy years later, it joins the persecutors.


Post a Comment 15 Comments

  • Posted by A. Stanton

    Hitler’s doctors didn’t want to compete with Jewish doctors either.

  • Posted by eter

    Maybe I’m just slow, but how does this make any sense relating to animal rights? Unless they plan to make the country vegetarian, animal slaughter will remain legal, and aren’t kosher and halal slaughter considered more humane (OK, not the right word) than other methods? Though I suppose the thinking on circumcision reveals the parliament’s broader bigoted agenda clearly enough. In that case, I assume that rabbis and priests who refuse to perform gay marriages will also eventually be targeted as engaging in illegal discrimination, in an effort to drive them out. If the Danish government will move against Muslims, there is no way they will spare Catholics.

    In the short term, kosher butchers and mohels in neighboring countries will probably be busier.

  • Posted by Henrik Nielsen

    Religious freedom is freedom from religion.

  • Posted by Adam

    Denmark is a very, very confused country. They want to do the right thing, to keep their noses clean and to be moral in fitting with their own self-image. Yet the embarrasing truth is that Danes really aren’t that much better than anyone else; they only like to think so. They are quick to condemn those that do wrong in their eyes.

    Their latest progressive idea is that male circumcision is mutilation; therefore it is wrong and must be forbidden. Same goes for halal/kosher butchery. Together with this is a growing distaste for the muslim minority that they welcomed as refugees/immigrants back in the last decades when the Danes thought that Denmark should be a saviour and safe-haven for distressed humans from all over the world (why? see above). The result is that Danes aren’t too bothered that these rules are an effective ” no, not here” to jews and muslims.

    By the way, the Danish record during WW2 is not that impressive. Besides the rescue of the Jews, there was plenty of collaboration and other immoral behavior going on. But the Danes don’t like to dig in that part of their past. It doesn’t fit well with their self-image.

  • Posted by neville craig

    Rumsfeldian hectoring of ‘Old Europe’, by a dysfunctional US?

    Have those pundits who pontificate on these matters ever had first-hand experience of abattoirs/slaughterhouses (as I have)?

    Those who practise circumcision are surely second-guessing our Creator’s ‘design’? And as Harvard Professor Shaye Cohen enquired in 2005, ‘Why aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?’

  • Posted by Andreas Bay-Larsen

    There’s are some significant fallacies in this. While I can’t address all of them, I’ll start with this:

    Danes (I am one) are fine with slaughtering animals. We’re a farming country and are generally very aware of how that beef patty ended up in our burger.

    What we DO care about (well, most of us) is, that the killing of the animal happens with the least possible amount of pain and suffering.

    The giraffe was killed instantly with a bolt gun. That – or similar – is what Dan Jørgensen wants for all animals, rather than some having their throat cut and left bleeding to death while fully conscious.

    It’s not hypocrisy. It’s consistency.

    Almost all kosher/halal slaughterings in Denmark are performed with the animal stunned first anyway, and these wouldn’t be affected by the new law.

    Turning this into an anti-semitic (or anti-muslim) stance says more about the author than about Danes.

  • Posted by Sheila Novitz

    I read a while ago, in a scholarly work, that the “heroism” of Danes in “rescuing” the Jews was a falsehood. (I wish I could remember the name and author of the book right now, and when I do I’ll write to Elliott Abrams – I will find it.) The true story was apparently very different. The Nazi in charge in Denmark – after managing to deport approximately 1,700 Jews without Danish protest – decided for reasons of his own that it was not – at that particular time and place – expedient to deport more Jewish people to their deaths. The arrangement for Danish “rescue” in boats to Sweden was organized and assisted by this Nazi. Danes had precious little to do with any of it. I promise to find the book and write more to Mr Abrams. I am unsurprised by the present anti-Jewish attitude of Denmark.

  • Posted by Deanna rasmussen

    We have been able to happily live amongst Jewish traditions, lets not get mixed up here.
    Time changes, why should my christian son be made to eat halal meat at school when i disagree with this bizarre ritual?? Afterall the country is christian (still) and we have our damn rights too. I cant even enter some of the middle eastern countrries as im not Married, women cant drive in some countries … How about spending your time writing about that. You can thank the muslims for this change.. Dont blame the christians..

  • Posted by Adam


    Thank you for proving my point.

  • Posted by EMT

    The Danes should not be too proud of themselves. It was their king who helped the Jews during the war. This seems to be a measure targeting both Jews and Muslims, and could be construed as a way to get rid of these populations. Denying this part of the population its religious rights does not seem to attest for being a good host.

  • Posted by Ron Low

    A practice that hurts someone who hasn’t given consent can never be protected under freedom of religion. The right to be free from harm trumps someone else’s right to THINK what they like about life’s unknowables.

  • Posted by Get a grip

    Come on guys, things are not that black and white. It is not either or. Making a law that protects animals, has nothing to do with the Danish stand on Jewish people. I must say, that thinking in such conspiratory thoughts are so far from the Danish way of thinking that it makes me giggle. Nobody cares about your religion!! Most Danes gives a rats ass about which God you pray to – as long as praticing it, doesn’t force upon us any religious sanctions to our daily lives. Like halal meat in the kindergardens. But it does make me ponder – what kind of society does people of different beliefs want to raise their children in? The kind they fled from, or the kind they fled to????
    So take an f… chill pill and relax. Most people don’t even know where Denmark is anyway. Oh an all that WW2 arguments… OMG… Honor your history, learn from it, but stop living it today!!!

  • Posted by Get a grip II

    Oh and we were the first country in the world to release porn, abortion and gay marriages… So I doubt that we are people who discriminate other peoples way of life… Just saying…

  • Posted by Sheila Novitz

    EMT comes closest to what I think about Danish actions and non-actions during WWII. I have been unable to find the exact book in which I read clearly that the Nazis simply did not find it expedient at that time to deport and murder all Danish Jews, and that the Nazi in charge organized their “escape.” Have just completed reading Walter Laqueur’s monumental work on what was known during WWII about the extermination of the Jews; it is horrifying. What was not done about that knowledge is even more horrifying, if possible, and this applies to all Allied countries especially UK and USA. Denmark is not mentioned as having been any more heroic than anyone else, and I strongly believe that the rescue by actual Danes is a legend that they enjoyed perpetuating. They are as anti-Semitic as all Scandinavian countries are, and yes, this is possibly a way of trying to get rid of Jewish and Muslim citizens.

  • Posted by Kim Hansen

    It´s not a legend. 7.000 jews got away to Sweden. Around 450 was captured. 51 died in kz-camps. And the rescue was conducted by high and low ,- rich and pour common Danes. When Berlin forced the collection of danish Jews on the Danish government they resigned. The Collection was leaked to the jewish society by a high-ranking German and the rescue began. In some ways the Germans turned the blind eye but they did not organize the rescue.

    The policies of collaborating from 1940 until oct. 1943 is not a subject that Denmark is proud of, but we were the ones with a mighty and modern army standing at our gates ,- with almost no means of defend.

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