Netherlands, The

International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 16,485 square miles and its population is approximately 16 million. Approximately 30 percent of the population consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, 15 percent Dutch Reformed, 7 percent Calvinist Reformist, 8 percent non-Christian (Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist), and 40 percent atheist or agnostic.

Dutch society has become increasingly secular. According to the Government's Social Cultural Planning Bureau, church membership has declined steadily from 76 percent in 1958 to 41 percent in 1995 and still is decreasing, although at a slower pace. The breakdown within this 41 percent is 20 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent Dutch Reformed, 6 percent Calvinist Reformist, 2 percent Muslim, and 4 percent other. Membership is decreasing among all denominations, except Islam, which is expected to become the second largest religion in the country by 2010.

About 26 percent of church members are active within their religious communities. In 1999, 14 percent of Roman Catholics, 30 percent of Dutch Reformed, and 51 percent of Calvinist Reformed attended church at least once every 2 weeks.

Those who leave a church rarely return. Nonetheless, significant numbers of those who have left their churches still consider themselves to be members of a religious group. Approximately 60 percent of citizens claim adherence to a religion. However, the beliefs and practices of many of these adherents have developed into what some describe as a selective approach to religion: Accepting the positive but not the negative aspects of a particular religion. About 20 percent of citizens, primarily among those who have left the "traditional" churches, describe themselves as "seekers of spiritual or philosophical truths." These persons tend to gravitate toward (although not necessarily join) newer or non-orthodox religious movements, such as Pentecostal groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, Theosophy, or Anthroposophy.

In the wake of secularization since the 1960's, many Roman Catholics left the Church. Among those remaining, many express alienation from their religious hierarchy and doctrine. For example, most Dutch Catholics express no objections to female or married priests and differ with church thinking on a number of sensitive doctrinal issues.

Dutch Protestantism is quite heterogeneous. Among the Protestant churches, the Dutch Reformed Church remains the largest, although it is also the one that has suffered the greatest losses to secularization. Church membership in this denomination has declined by two-thirds in the past 50 years. The second largest Protestant group, the Calvinist Reformist Church, has been less affected by membership losses and even has succeeded in attracting former members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Other Protestant denominations include Baptists, Lutherans, and Remonstrants.

The country has a long tradition of providing shelter to non-Christian religions. Jews have been in the Netherlands since the late sixteenth century. By the beginning of World War II, the Netherlands counted 125,000 Jews, half of whom lived in Amsterdam. About 110,000 were killed by the Nazi regime. Following the war, more than 10,000 citizens emigrated to Israel. The current Jewish community includes fewer than 20,000 members but is thriving and operates its own schools.

Only 49 Muslims lived in the country in 1879. After 1960 the number of Muslims began to rise due to the arrival of migrant workers, primarily from Morocco and Turkey. Family unification increased their numbers to 234,000 Moroccans and 279,000 Turks by 1998. Additional Muslims came from the former Dutch colony of Suriname. In the past decade, Muslim numbers further increased due to the large numbers of asylum seekers from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Bosnia. By 1998 about 700,000 persons, or 4.4 percent of the population, were Muslim--the majority Sunni.

A network of mosques and cultural centers serves the Islamic community. They are organized to conform to the country's system of subsidies, which underwrites cultural activities geared to social orientation and the promotion of equal opportunities. The number of mosques has grown to over 300. The increased influence of Islam also is reflected in the founding of over 30 Islamic schools, which is facilitated by legislation that recognizes and provides equal funding to schools representing different religious or philosophical backgrounds.

There were no reports of foreign missionary groups operating in the country.

Section II. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Constitution permits the Government to place restrictions on the exercise of religion only on limited grounds, such as health hazards, traffic safety, and risk of public disorder.

The Calvinist Reformist Church enjoyed a privileged status until 1795. It received government subsidies and only church members could hold public office. Church and State have been separate since 1798. However, the Government provides state subsidies to religious organizations that maintain educational facilities. The Government provides funding to public as well as to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious health care facilities, irrespective of their religious affiliation. In order to qualify for funding, institutions must meet strict nonreligious-based criteria for curriculum standards, minimum size, and health care.

The law provides for minority views to be heard on radio and television. Thus, broadcasting time has been allotted to the Islamic Broadcasting Foundation, an alliance of all Muslim groups in the country.

The Government of Turkey exercises influence within the Dutch-Turkish Islamic community through its religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet, which is permitted to appoint imams for the 140 Turkish mosques in the Netherlands. There is no such arrangement with the Moroccan Government that allows it to appoint religious officials to Moroccan mosques. The Moroccan Government tries to exercise influence over the approximately 100 Moroccan mosques through a federation of Moroccan friendship societies. Dutch authorities have not been pleased with Turkish and Moroccan interference with religious and political affairs because it appears to run counter to government efforts to encourage integration of Muslims into Dutch society. For example, government authorities insist on strict observance of mandatory school attendance up to the age of 16. They disapprove of appeals by foreign imams to keep sexually mature girls under the age of 16 at home. To counter such influence the authorities have proposed training imams in the Netherlands itself, a measure that is opposed within the Islamic communities.

A sizable community of approximately 90,000 Hindus has arrived from the former Dutch colony of Suriname. The Netherlands also hosts smaller groups of Hindus who came from India and Uganda, as well as similar movements based on Hindu teachings as Ramakrishna, Hare Krishna, Sai Baba, and Osho. The Buddhist community is quite small, with about 17,000 members.

Disputes have arisen when the exercise of the rights to freedom of religion and speech clashed with the strictly enforced ban on discrimination. Such disputes are addressed either in the courts or by antidiscrimination boards. Complaints have repeatedly been filed against religious or political spokesmen who publicly condemned homosexuality. However, it is longstanding jurisprudence that such statements made on religious grounds do not constitute a criminal offense if the intention to offend or discriminate against homosexuals was deemed absent.

The headscarf issue has also been addressed repeatedly in the courts and by equal opportunities committees. The prevailing opinion is that the wearing of headscarves may only be banned on narrow grounds, such as security considerations or inconsistency with an official government uniform.

In other areas, employers have been rebuked publicly by anti-discrimination boards for failure to allow non-Christians to take leave from work on their religious holidays, for objecting to Sikhs wearing turbans or to Muslim women wearing headscarves, or to observance of food requirements on religious grounds. The Equal Opportunities Committee in July 1999 ruled against a company that had denied employment to a Turkish applicant because he intended to attend Friday service at a mosque. This was considered a violation of freedom of religion. According to the Committee, Friday service for Muslims is equivalent to Sunday service for Christians. It ruled that employers are obliged to take account of reasonable religious demands from their employees, except in exceptional circumstances.

The Calvinist Reformist Social Union (RMU) charged that the 1996 law on working hours contributed to discrimination. This law permits work on Sunday under certain circumstances. Based on a survey of 2,000 companies, the RMU reported that job applicants increasingly are turned down if they refuse for religious reasons to work on Sunday. The larger labor federations reacted by calling for agreements between labor and management on the practice of religion during working hours. This matter usually does not lead to problems; however, if problems arise, the federations made clear their intention to call upon offending employers to observe this fundamental right. At the end of the reporting period, the legislature was still working on an amendment to the laws on working hours and business hours to permit employees to claim time off for the practice of religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Religious communities live alongside each other in harmony. The main Christian denominations participate in the National Council of Churches and have adopted an ecumenical approach to interfaith relations. The Council regularly presents common positions of the churches on matters of faith, church, and society. Protestant denominations in particular are significant promoters of Israel and the Jewish cause. Protestant churches also reach out to the Islamic community. Incidents of anti-Semitism are rare; however, there were a number of complaints about anti-Semitism on Internet sites set up by Dutch citizens. In 1999 the Discrimination on the Internet Registration Center recorded 181 complaints about discriminatory statements, racial discrimination, or anti-Semitism on the Internet. Most statements were removed voluntarily by the authors at the Center's request. Two complaints were forwarded to the Public Prosecutor when the authors refused to remove the controversial texts from the Internet. One case led to a conviction for incitement to hatred and discrimination.

Non-Europeans, such as Turks, Moroccans, or refugees from Iran and Iraq are occasional victims of discrimination, but primarily on racial or ethnic grounds and not because they are Muslims.

Examples of religious discrimination incidents are primarily of an anti-Semitic nature and involve use of swastikas, distributing neo-Nazi propaganda, and making the Hitler salute. The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) saw proof of a trend of growing anti-Semitism in the country. In its annual report for the year 2000, CIDI reported that Jewish cemeteries, monuments, synagogues, and buildings were on 50 occasions the target of vandals. That is four times as often as in 1999. The number of incidents of physical or verbal intimidation of Jews also sharply increased, as did the painting of anti-Semitic slogans on walls. CIDI deputy director Hirschfeld warned against "a process of inurement" in the country, in which no one is shocked by more anti-Semitic slogans. "I am not saying that the Netherlands is anti-Semitic, but a climate could come about in which anti-Semitism may thrive." Not only right-wing extremists but also resident Muslims appear to be linked to the increase in anti-Semitic incidents. The renewed intensity of the intifada is also believed to be at least indirectly tied to this uptrend in anti-Semitism. Ethnic Moroccans were involved in 13 major incidents of anti-Semitism in 2000.

The labor federations have been working to include in collective bargaining agreements stipulations that permit non-Christian employees to take leave on non-Christian religious holidays. Such stipulations have now been included in most agreements.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Promoting religious freedom around the world is a high priority goal of Dutch foreign policy. The U.S. Embassy works very closely with the Government to promote religious freedom.