printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Netherlands

International Religious Freedom Report 2004
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 Government continues to focus on better integration of Muslims into society following the national debate triggered by the killing in 2002 of a politician who highlighted the issue. However, Muslims are facing continued criticism for such perceived problems as the poor integration of Muslim immigrants into society, the high level of criminal activity among Muslim youth, and the conservative views of orthodox Muslims on topics such as women and corporal punishment. There is also 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 as a part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 16,485 square miles, and its population is approximately 16.2 million. Approximately 31 percent of the population consider themselves Roman Catholic, 14 percent Dutch Reformed, 6 percent Muslim, 6 percent Calvinist Reformed, 3 percent non-Christian (Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist), and 40 percent atheist or agnostic.

Society has become increasingly secular. According to the Government's Social Cultural Planning Bureau, religious membership has declined steadily from 76 percent in 1958 to 41 percent in 1995 and continues to decrease, although at a slower pace. Membership is decreasing among all denominations except Islam.

Approximately 26 percent of religious practitioners are active within their religious communities. In 2002, an estimated 25 percent of Roman Catholics, 33 percent of Dutch Reformed, 55 percent of Calvinist Reformed, and 50 percent of Muslims attended church at least once every 2 weeks.

Those who leave a religion rarely return. Nonetheless, significant numbers of those who have left their religions 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 to 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 1960s, many Roman Catholics have left the Church. Among those remaining, many express alienation from their religious hierarchy and doctrine. For example, most of the country's 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 also 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 Reformed 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. In April, the main Protestant churches merged into the United Protestant Churches. However, a few orthodox communities refused to merge.

The country has a long tradition of providing shelter to non-Christian religions. For example, the present Jewish community includes fewer than 25,000 active members but is thriving and operates its own schools.

The number of Muslims continues to rise steadily primarily due to Turkish and Moroccan immigrants marrying partners from their countries of origin. By the end of 2003, there were approximately 295,000 Moroccans and 341,000 Turks in the country. Additional Muslims came from the former 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 the end of 2003, the total number of Muslims amounted to about 920,000, or 5.7 percent of the population; the majority are Sunni. A network of mosques and cultural centers serves the Islamic community. This network is organized to conform to the national 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 to Moroccans, and approximately 50 to Surinamese. The founding of more than 30 Islamic schools further reflects the increased influence of Islam.

There is a sizable community of approximately 95,000 Hindus, of whom 85 percent originally came from Suriname and about 10 percent from India. The country also hosts smaller numbers of Hindus from 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 are a small number 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 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.

Religious groups are not required to register with the government; however, the law does recognize the existence of religious denominations and grants them certain rights and privileges, including tax exemptions. Although the law does not formally define what constitutes a "religious denomination" for these purposes, religious groups generally have not experienced any problems qualifying as a religious denomination.

The law provides for minority views to be broadcast 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 country's 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. The Moroccan Government attempts to exercise influence over the approximately 100 Moroccan mosques through a federation of Moroccan friendship societies. Authorities have not been pleased with Turkish and Moroccan interference with religious and political affairs because such interference appears to run counter to government efforts to encourage integration of Muslims into society. For example, government authorities insist on strict observance of mandatory school attendance up to the age of 16 and reject appeals by foreign imams to keep sexually mature girls under the age of 16 at home either through action by the school administration or direct communication with parents.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. To counter undesired foreign influence, the authorities have proposed training imams who practice in the country so that they will have at least basic knowledge of the national language and of the country's prevailing norms and social values. Given the strict separation between the State and religion, the authorities themselves cannot organize such training. Although various institutions such as the Islamic University of Rotterdam and the Protestant Free University of Amsterdam teach Islam, no institution provides comprehensive training for imams because the various Islamic organizations disagree on the desirability and modalities of such training; financing also is a problem. 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 has 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, longstanding jurisprudence dictates that such statements made on religious grounds do not constitute a criminal offense absent an intention to offend or discriminate against homosexuals.

The Equal Opportunities Committee (CGB) and the courts have also repeatedly addressed the headscarf issue. The prevailing opinion is that the wearing of headscarves may be banned only on narrow grounds, such as security considerations or inconsistency with an official government uniform. However, in March 2003, the CGB stated that a recent ban by Amsterdam schools on wearing burqas in class is not discriminatory. The CGB stated that open teacher-student and student-to-student interaction is more important than the right to wear a burqa.

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 for objecting to observance of food requirements on religious grounds. The CGB has 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 CGB, 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.

In March 2003, legislation took effect that explicitly permits employees to refuse to work on Sunday for religious reasons, unless the work's nature, such as in the health sector, does not permit such an exception. The legislation came in the wake of charges by the Calvinist Reformed Social Union of religious discrimination by employers and reports of job applicants being turned down for employment for refusing to work on Sundays for religious reasons.

The Government has issued a formal exception to the entry ban against Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, founders of the Unification Church, under the terms of the Schengen Treaty. The Government would not refuse the Moons entry to the country on religious grounds.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

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 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.

Individual Muslims occasionally face harassment and threats. Muslims also face continuing criticism for such perceived problems as the poor integration of Muslim immigrants into society, the high level of criminal activity among Muslim youth, and the conservative views of orthodox Muslims on topics such as women, homosexuals, and corporal punishment. Although politicians generally refrain from anti-Islamic rhetoric, members of the Muslim immigrant community have criticized the perceived tendency of both some politicians and the media to characterize Muslims as criminals and backward religious fanatics.

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 not violent and included abusive language, hate mail, shouted insults at soccer matches, Internet "chat room" discussions, as well as persistent historical revisionism (such as Holocaust denial). However, pockets of militant young Muslims, mostly Moroccans, on a number of occasions have assaulted or intimidated identifiable Jews. The Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI) observed a continued rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2002-03, particularly assaults, intimidation, and verbal attacks, perpetrated mostly by Moroccan youths; however, there were no serious attacks on synagogues or Jewish institutions or shops. In addition to the anti-Semitic acts carried out by a relatively small group of Arab youths, the virulent anti-Israel sentiment among certain groups in society, such as the Arab European League and the Stop the Occupation movement, also have contributed to an anti-Semitic atmosphere.

Reacting to CIDI reports on increasing anti-Semitism in recent years, the Parliament requested that the Government present an action plan to combat anti-Semitism in June 2003. It responded in October 2003, but the action plan was placed in the broader context of the Government's unabated efforts to combat discrimination of all kinds, and it did not propose new policy specifically designed to combat anti-Semitism. The plan proposed that parents have primary responsibility for preventing anti-Semitic incidents; however, schools can also help to combat discrimination and inculcate respect and tolerance. Public debate and dialogue are other tools to achieve these goals, to which end several nongovernmental organizations have launched projects such as Een Ander Joods Geluid (an alternative Jewish viewpoint) to foster debate on equality, tolerance, and human dignity. Also, the Dutch Coalition for Peace has called on Jews, Palestinians, and other Muslims in the country to work together to restore peace in the Middle East.

Stricter instructions to prosecutors and the police took effect in April 2003 to ensure proper attention to incidents of discrimination. Measures were also taken to deal more effectively with discrimination on the Internet. The Ministry of Education has tasked schools in longstanding guidelines to teach about different religions and ideologies in conjunction with discrimination and intolerance. Explicit attention must be paid to the persecution of Jewish persons in World War II. The Ministry of Welfare subsidizes a special program to teach children about the Second World War and the persecution of Jewish persons. In particular the program is designed to raise awareness about the consequences of prejudice. The Government also seeks to promote dialogue and supports initiatives that aim to create a better understanding between Jewish persons and Muslims.

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 now have been included in most agreements.

The March report of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) on Anti-Semitism in the European Union in 2002-03 also noted the CIDI data and, as a result, listed the country as one with a rising problem of anti-Semitism. In April, the Anti-Defamation League issued a survey on attitudes towards Jews, Israel, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in 10 European countries that showed that the country scored lowest on the point of holding anti-Semitic views, although its score was higher than 2 years previously; it also scored second on the list as the most pro-Israel nation.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Promoting religious freedom around the world is a high-priority goal of the U.S. Government's foreign policy. The U.S. Embassy works very closely with the Government to promote religious freedom. It also engages in dialogue with Muslim and Jewish organizations.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.