As new citizenship rules are being drafted, the Danish government wants to make it mandatory for people to shake hands with the mayors of their respective municipalities during citizenship ceremonies, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported.
"The handshake is the accepted way of greeting people in Denmark. That's the way we show respect for each other in this country. That's why it's a natural part of this ceremony," Immigration Minister Inger Støjberg of the Liberal Party told the daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
According to the Social Democrats, the Danish People's Party (DF) and the Conservatives, shaking hands should be a legal requirement.
"If you want to be a Danish citizen, you need to be prepared to greet politely and decently with other people, and in Denmark it means shaking hands. That's how it is," DF immigration spokesman Martin Henriksen said.
According to Johannes Nørregaard Frandsen, a professor of cultural science and literature at the University of Southern Denmark, shaking hands is a completely normal way of greeting, which in Denmark can be traced back to the Code of Jutland from 1241.
While some politicians see the bill as a step towards compelling newcomers to embrace Danish values and Danish culture, others regard is as unconstitutional encroachment on religious freedom.
Ole Bjørstorp, Social Democrat mayor of the Ishøj municipality, where 40 percent of the population speaks other languages than Danish, said he would defy his party's stance and violate the bill, should it ever become enacted.
"Many people asked me 'what if you are sent to jail for that?' Well, I still won't do it," Bjørstorp told Danish Radio.
According to Bjørstorp, even ethnic Danes often greet each other in other manners than handshake, implying no disrespect.
"I perceive it as targeting Muslims. We have religious freedom here in Denmark. When something is protected by the constitution, one must respect it, even when making legislation," Bjørstorp stressed.
Bjørstorp was supported by two fellow Social Democrat mayors and even a Liberal colleague, who called the bill a "losing idea."
The bill is a result of a debate sparked by a case in Switzerland, where a Muslim couple was refused citizenship over failing to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. Similar cases of Muslims being refused jobs or fired over their refusal to shake hands have occurred in Norway and Sweden.