U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 - The Netherlands

Section I. Freedom of Religion

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

Approximately 30 percent of the population consider themselves 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 within the next decade.

About 24 percent of citizens are active within their religious communities. One in three Roman Catholics goes to church at least once a month. About one in two Dutch Reformed members and two of three Calvinist Reformists do the same. 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. About 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 (though not necessarily join) newer or nonorthodox 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 16th 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 (out of a total population of 16 million). 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.

Islam is growing quickly. There is a network of mosques and cultural centers. Mosques and centers are organized to conform to the country's system of subsidies, which underwrites cultural activities geared to social orientation and 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.

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

There were no reports of foreign missionary groups operating 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. Two recent cases involved the leader of an orthodox Protestant party in the Parliament and a police inspector in Rotterdam (who also happened to be a council member for another orthodox Protestant party in a small town). Both officials made public statements disapproving of homosexuality on religious grounds. Complaints by private individuals and organizations induced the Public Prosecutor to start criminal proceedings. Although the officials' statements were considered offensive to homosexuals by the Hague District Courts (in the case of the member of Parliament) and the Police Judge in Rotterdam (in the case of the police inspector), both were acquitted by the Hague Appellate Court on June 9, 1999 because the intention to offend or discriminate against homosexuals was deemed absent. The officials apologized for any harm they might have caused to homosexuals.

Other controversies focused on the authority of religious school boards (all schools are publicly funded) to deny employment to homosexual teachers or Muslim women wearing headscarves. The Equal Opportunities Committee ruled in February 1999 that a public school is not permitted to deny employment to an applicant solely because she refused to take off her headscarf. This action was considered a violation of freedom of religion. Although the Government years ago granted students permission to wear headscarves, some public schools in areas with large numbers of Turks forbid teachers to wear headscarves because of threats by Turkish parents to take their children elsewhere. They cite as justification that state schools in Turkey do not permit the wearing of headscarves.

In April 1999, the Equal Opportunities Committee ruled that a Christian school was not permitted to deny employment to an applicant solely because of the person's sexual preference. Such an action was considered to be a violation of the anti-discrimination ban. The Board of a Calvinist school had rejected an applicant because it assumed that the parents of their pupils would not find him acceptable. A supervisory body subsequently fired the Board for its decision. The school Board appealed this decision to the Equal Opportunities Committee. The Committee ruled that a school board is permitted to make certain demands of applicants, such as endorsement of the school's principles, but that being a homosexual without openly advocating the lifestyle would not be grounds to deny employment. In other areas, employers have been publicly rebuked for failure to allow non-Christians leave on their religious holidays, for objecting to Sikhs wearing turbans or Muslim women wearing headscarves, or to observance of food requirements on religious grounds.

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.

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

Section II. 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. The Protestant churches also reach out to the Islamic community. Incidents of anti-Semitism are rare. The Discrimination on the Internet Registration Center recorded 121 complaints in 1998 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 passed to the Public Prosecutor when the authors refused to remove the controversial texts from the Internet. Decisions on the two cases are expected by July 1999.

Ethnic minorities are occasional victims of incidents of 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 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 III. 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.

The Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, and government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. It is submitted in compliance with P.L. 105-292 (105th Congress) and is cited as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

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