The following text is taken by permission from Frank Cranmer’s “Notes on Church and State . . .” – see this introductory note.
Separation of church and state was established during the Batavian Revolution of 1795. Article 1 of the Constitution outlaws religious discrimination and Article 6(1) provides that everyone “shall have the right to manifest freely his religion or belief, either individually or in community with others, without prejudice to his responsibility under the law”.
In the past, the religious makeup of the Netherlands was roughly one-third Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic and one-third secular. The three groups operated through their own institutions: a situation traditionally described as Verzuiling or “pillarisation”, under which members of the three pillars maintained their own political parties, trades unions, newspapers, hospitals and other organisations. However, Dutch society has become increasingly secular and the Protestant denominations, in particular, have suffered a considerable decline in membership. In the 1970s two Protestant political parties united with the Roman Catholic KVP to form the CDA (Christen Democratisch Appèl ), which took part in the elections of 1977, while the Catholic trade union NKV merged with the Socialist NVV in 1982. Although remnants remain, pillarisation is now all but dead. In 2006 the Netherlands Social Cultural Planning Bureau estimated that the number of church members had declined from 76 percent of the population in 1958 to 30 percent in 2006, of which 16 per cent were Roman Catholic and 14 per cent Protestant. (IRFR 2010: Netherlands).
On the face of it, the Dutch model of Church-State relations is rather at the separatist end of the spectrum so that, for example, religious marriages contracted in the Netherlands must be validated by a civil ceremony. Religious groups are not required to register with the Government; however, the law grants religious denominations certain rights and privileges, including tax exemptions. The Government also provides subsidies to religious organisations that maintain educational facilities and health-care facilities, but it does not aid religious organisations as such. In reality, however, the position is more fluid than the formal situation might suggest; and Minister of Justice Ernst Hirsch Ballin (2009) has described it as “pluralistic cooperation, par excellence”. Under the Care Institutions (Quality) Act 1996, for example, care institutions must provide for the spiritual needs of patients in ways compatible with their religion or belief.
As to education, a private school founded on religious or philosophical convictions will be eligible for government subsidy provided it demonstrates that it can serve a sufficient number of students and satisfy the quality criteria and funding regulations. Once established, it will be financed on the same basis as the public schools. (Ballin 2009). At the Government‘s initiative, the Free University Amsterdam, the University of Leiden and Hogeschool In Holland established training courses for imams in the hope of ensuring a supply of “home-grown” Muslim clergy who would speak Dutch and understand Dutch society. However, it was reported in July 2009 that no graduate of the training-courses had succeeded in securing appointment by a mosque: partly because of lack of confidence in their training and partly on financial grounds. (NIS 2009).
On 7 January 2011 the Equal Opportunities Commission declared a Roman Catholic high school in Volendam, Don Bosco College, guilty of discrimination on religious grounds for banning a Muslim pupil from wearing a headscarf. The Commission said that school pupils should, in principle, be free to wear a headscarf, a skullcap or Christian cross. It was possible for a school to introduce a ban if it was necessary to preserve its special identity but that was not the case for Don Bosco College. On 4 April, however, Haarlem District Court ruled  that, in principle, schools were free to incorporate such a prohibition into their regulations. The headscarf ban was consonant with the Roman Catholic character of the College under which diverse expressions of faith were not allowed. The ban did not restrict freedom of expression and the College was not discriminating on the basis of religion. (NIS 2010).
-  LJN BQ0063, Rechtbank Haarlem, zaak/rolnr.: 502067 / VV EXPL 11-29. ↩
This content last updated 4 November 2011 @ 1:49 pm