Netherlands, The

International Religious Freedom Report 2002
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. Following the national debate triggered by the killing of an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim politician, the new Government is focusing on better integration of Muslims into society. However, there is rising intolerance towards Muslims due to the events of fall 2001, as well as rising crime in the country. There also is growing anti-Semitism, particularly among Muslims, due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

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.

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.

Approximately 26 percent of church members are active within their religious communities. In 1999 an estimated 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. Approximately 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. For example, the present Jewish community includes fewer than 20,000 members but is thriving and operates its own schools.

The number of Muslims has risen due to the arrival of migrant workers, primarily from Morocco and Turkey. By 2001 there were approximately 279,000 Moroccans and 320,000 Turks in the country. 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 2001 the total number of Muslims amounted to about 750,000, or 4.7 percent of the population; the majority are Sunni. A network of mosques and cultural centers serves the Islamic community. It is 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 increased to approximately 400; more than half cater to Turks, approximately 140 cater to Moroccans, and approximately 50 cater to Surinamese. The increased influence of Islam also is reflected in the founding of over 30 Islamic schools.

There is a sizable community of approximately 90,000 Hindus from the former Dutch colony of Suriname. The country 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 approximately 17,000 members.

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

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect 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. For example, 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 country. 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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

To counter undesired foreign influence, the authorities have proposed training imams in the Netherlands itself so that they will have at least basic knowledge of the Dutch language and of the prevailing norms and values in Dutch society. Given the strict separation between the State and religion, the authorities themselves cannot organize such training. However, the Theological University of Kampen and the Protestant Free University of Amsterdam have started providing religious training to Muslims. As an interim measure, the Government has decided that all imams and other spiritual leaders recruited in Islamic countries first must follow a 1-year integration course before they are allowed to practice in the country.

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 also has been addressed repeatedly in the courts and by equal opportunities committees. The prevailing opinion is that the wearing of headscarves only may 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 antidiscrimination 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. In 1999 the Equal Opportunities Committee 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 period covered by this report, the legislature still was 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 were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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 have tended to live alongside each other in harmony. Among them, the Protestant denominations in particular have both promoted the Jewish cause and reached out to the Islamic community. However, in the fall of 2001, widespread societal resentment of growing numbers of Muslims and their culture became apparent. Populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who was killed shortly before the May 2002 general elections, received broad support for his characterization of Islam as "a backward culture" that is intolerant toward women and homosexuals, and that allows practices from the Middle Ages. The consequent backlash against the Muslim community was worsened by growing resentment of Moroccan youth gangs held responsible for a major rise in crime.

In the fall of 2001, there were a number of incidents of arson and the painting of hateful slogans on mosques and other Islamic institutions. The National Association of Anti-Discrimination Bureaus registered over 90 incidents against Muslims, including vandalism, arson, the defacing of mosques or Islamic institutions, harassment, and verbal abuse in public places, directed particularly at women wearing headscarves. Such incidents subsequently subsided, but individuals of the large Muslim communities of mostly Turks and Moroccans and other refugees from Iran and Iraq continue to be harassed and threatened. Incidents of actual physical assault remain quite rare.

The escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinians also caused a backlash in society. Several monitoring organizations observed an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. Most anti-Semitic incidents were non-violent and involved the chanting or painting of anti-Semitic slogans, the use of swastikas, distribution of neo-Nazi propaganda, and individuals making the Hitler salute. However, pockets of militant young Muslims, mostly Moroccans, have on a number of occasions assaulted or intimidated identifiable Jews. The Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI) observed a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2001, particularly assaults, intimidation, and verbal attacks, perpetrated mostly by Moroccan youths; however, there were no serious attacks on synagogues or Jewish institutions or shops. On April 13, 2002, a range of incidents occurred during an anti-Israel demonstration in Amsterdam. The demonstration escalated into serious rioting. Most of the 20,000 attendees were Muslims. Demonstrators carried anti-Semitic slogans and symbols and burned Israeli and U.S. flags. Two recognizable Jews were attacked and beaten.

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.