The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief. It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred. In June the government enacted a ban of face coverings in schools and some public spaces and expected to implement the ban in 2019. The Jewish community asked the government to focus more attention on combating anti-Semitism and to appoint an anti-Semitism coordinator. Politicians from several parties made anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic statements. There were several proposals in parliament to reduce benefits for religious groups and eliminate religion from public spaces, but no such legislation was passed.
The government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, involving violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. According to police, incidents targeting Muslims decreased by 45 percent compared with 2016 while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 15 percent over the same period. In August an Afghan man stabbed two persons, stating he had done so in response to Dutch insults to Islam. A study by two historians found most instances of anti-Semitism in recent years involved verbal or written speech, and that Dutch Moroccans and Dutch Turks, but not recent immigrants, were overrepresented among those committing anti-Semitic acts. A study by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) found significant numbers of Muslims held a negative opinion of Dutch society.
The U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of support for refugees of all faiths, integration for newcomers, and interfaith dialogue in formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials, including at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Social Affairs, and Education and with parliamentarians and police. Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society activists, and they pursued public outreach to youth to increase interfaith understanding and tolerance. The embassy also discussed religious tolerance with refugees.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 17.2 million (July 2018 estimate). In a 2017 survey of persons aged 15 or older by the government’s Statistics Netherlands, 51 percent of the population declared no church affiliation, 23 percent self-identified as Roman Catholic, 15 percent as Protestant, 5 percent as Muslim, and 6 percent as “other,” including Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Baha’i.
Most Muslims live in urban areas and are of Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese background. The Muslim population also includes recent immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries, including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Liberal Jewish Community, the largest Jewish community in the country, estimates the number of Jews at 40-50,000. A Statistics Netherlands study from 2015 estimated the number of Hindus at 10,000, of whom approximately 85 percent are of Surinamese descent and 10 percent of Indian descent. The Buddhist community has approximately 17,000 members, according to a 2007 report by the governmental Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), the most recent estimate available.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and provides for the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, without affecting their responsibilities under the law. The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs outside of buildings or enclosed spaces to protect health, ensure traffic safety, and prevent disorder.
The law makes it a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred and provides a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,300), or both. To qualify as hate speech, statements must be directed at a group of persons; the law does not consider statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” (as opposed to “Muslims,”) as criminal hate speech.
The law does not require religious groups to register with the government. If the tax authorities determine the groups meet specific criteria, they grant them exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes. Under the tax law, to qualify for tax exemptions such groups must be “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contribute to the general welfare of society, and be nonprofit and nonviolent.
On June 26, the government approved a ban on full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings. The government did not implement the ban during the year; it expected to do so in 2019 after agreeing on implementation procedures. Individuals violating the law will first be asked to remove the face covering or leave the building. Those refusing to cooperate may be fined 410 euros ($470).
The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector. Members of religious communities for whom the Sabbath is not Sunday may request similar exemptions.
The Council of State and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) are responsible for reviewing complaints of religious discrimination. The Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country, and its rulings are binding. The NIHR serves as the government’s independent human rights watchdog, responsible for advising the government and monitoring and highlighting such issues, including those pertaining to religion. The NIHR hears complaints of religious discrimination, often involving labor disputes, and issues opinions that do not carry the force of law but with which the addressed parties tend to comply.
Local governments appoint antidiscrimination boards that work independently under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. These local boards provide information on how to report complaints and mediate disputes, including those pertaining to discrimination based on religion. Acceptance of mediation decisions by parties involved in disputes is voluntary.
The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions have to meet government educational standards as well as minimum class size and healthcare requirements. The constitution stipulates that standards required of religious or ideology-based (termed “special”) schools, financed either in part or fully by the government, shall be regulated by law with due regard for the freedom of these schools to provide education according to their religion or ideology.
The constitution stipulates public education shall pay due respect to the individual’s religion or belief, and the law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools. Specialist teachers teach religion classes in public schools that offer them, and enrollment in these classes is optional. All schools are required to familiarize students with the various religious movements in society, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation. Religion-based schools, which are also government-funded, are free to shape religious education, as long as the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses. Approximately 71 percent of government-funded schools have a religious, humanist, or philosophical basis. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science is responsible for setting national curriculum standards that all schools must comply with and monitoring compliance.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions, as required. Separately, the national government continued to address security issues with representatives of the Muslim community, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, and local authorities, through a special working group established in 2017. Local governments, in consultation with the national government, also continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. The Foundation for Life and Welfare, an NGO that advised the Jewish community on security and protection, stated in its annual report in July that the Jewish community was exposed to substantial threats. It emphasized the importance of maintaining rigorous security measures and expressed regret over the city of Amsterdam’s 2017 decision to replace manned police booths at Jewish institutions with camera surveillance.
Ron van der Wieken, president of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), which advocated for the rights and interests of the Jewish community in the country, said that when the CJO met in February with a government delegation that included Prime Minister Mark Rutte, it requested the establishment of a Dutch anti-Semitism coordinator. At year’s end the government had not yet taken a position on whether to appoint such a coordinator.
Proponents of the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings, which included most political parties (132 out of 150 members of parliament voted in favor of it) argued the law had nothing to do with religion, and was necessary for individuals to integrate into an open democratic society. Opponents, which included the D66 Party, the Green Party, and the DENK Party, stated the legislation targeted devout Muslim women and religious freedom and was largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small.
Regional Muslim organizations, including SIOHR (the Alliance of Islamic Organizations in The Hague region), SMBZ (the Alliance of Mosque Boards in Brabant and Zeeland), and SPIOR (the Foundation Platform of Islamic Organizations in the Rotterdam Region) also protested the ban. Authorities said they expected to begin enforcing the ban beginning in summer 2019 after coming to agreements on the logistics of enforcement with the leaders of sectors to which the ban applied. The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam said they would give no priority to enforcing the ban.
Freedom (PVV) Party leader Geert Wilders announced in May he would hold a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in November in his party’s offices in parliament. The government, including National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism Dick Schoof, distanced itself from the event but said it was prepared to provide security in order to protect freedom of expression. In August Prime Minister Rutte said the contest was “not respectful,” but the government “stands firmly by freedom of expression.” He called it “a provocation.” On August 27, police arrested a Pakistani man in The Hague after the man posted a video on Facebook stating he planned to attack the organizer of the cartoon contest or the parliament. Shortly thereafter, Wilders cancelled the contest because of what he said were threats against him and others. He stated the response to the contest had proven his point that Islam was violent and intolerant.
In March the PVV campaign produced a television commercial with the text reading, “Islam equals discrimination, violence, terror, misogyny, hatred of gays, hatred of Jews, hatred of Christians, subjugation, forced marriage, honor killing, totalitarianism, death of apostates, sharia, animal suffering, injustice, slavery, and is lethal.” Several organizations, including the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, filed a complaint with police for inciting discrimination of, and violence against, Muslims. On May 1, the prosecutor’s office announced the video did not constitute a criminal offense, as it was directed against a religion, and not against people, and did not incite discrimination or violence against Muslims.
In September Forum for Democracy (FVD) Party leader Thierry Baudet, whose party had two seats in parliament, stated in media interviews that Islam posed a threat to society. He said “the radicalization of Muslims [was] increasing” and the construction and architecture of mosques in the country was intentionally provocative. He also stated mosques were “a breeding ground for anti-Dutch sentiments and behavior,” Islamic schools were a problem, and Christianity was superior to Islam.
On February 14, the discrimination officer at the prosecutor’s office decided that a January statement by a local PVV politician, Henk van Deun, did not constitute hate speech or incitement to commit criminal offenses. Van Deun said in a radio interview about a particular mosque, “We prefer if it was burned down, so to speak. We are truly against mosques. We do not recognize Islam as a religion. It is an ideology.”
In its most recent report, covering 2017, the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) reported half a dozen anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the DENK party and local Hague Unity Party. In October 2017, CIDI said DENK had queried the cabinet about what it said was a slander campaign by the “Israeli lobby” against a minister married to a Palestinian. At the same time, according to the CIDI report, DENK posted on Facebook a picture suggesting that Israel or Jews controlled politics in the country and alluding to the anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In May CIDI filed a complaint with police against a tweet by Hague Unity Party council member Arnoud van Doorn saying, “May Allah destroy the Zionists.”
In September the prosecutor’s office said it had initiated an investigation into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity Parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in Rotterdam in 2017. The investigation continued at year’s end.
The government continued to monitor the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions and said it was examining whether it was legally possible to obligate foreign countries or organizations to be transparent about their donations.
Spokespersons for Christian political parties such as the Political Calvinist Alliance (SGP) and Christian Democratic Appeal said political parties that were part of the secular majority in parliament regularly presented proposals to ban religion from public spaces and eliminate what it called privileges of religious communities, such as the right to conduct religious slaughter, tax advantages, and death notification services (when the government informs churches of the deaths of citizens.) These proposals failed to gain sufficient support to move forward in parliament. Representatives of religion-based parties in parliament, such as SGP leader Kees van der Staaij, stated in October that true democracy reflected respect for minorities, which included persons of religious belief.
On July 12, the Amsterdam District Court convicted Saleh Ali, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, of vandalism and theft and sentenced him to a six-week prison term. It also ordered him to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. In December 2017, Ali waved a Palestinian flag and smashed the windows of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam. According to his attorney, he carried out the attack out of frustration over Israeli policy toward Palestinians and President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus reacted to the attack by saying, “discrimination of population groups in whatever form … is unacceptable.” According to The Times of Israel newspaper, Vice President of CJO and former head of CIDI Ronny Naftaniel said Ali’s sentence “does not constitute any deterrence” for those contemplating anti-Semitic crimes. On social media, CIDI expressed concern that “someone who constitutes such a risk can walk about freely.”
Government ministers, including Prime Minister Rutte, regularly spoke out against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in speeches, such as at the annual Auschwitz and Kristallnacht commemorations. At the National Holocaust Commemoration in Amsterdam on January 28, Rutte stated, “Contemporary anti-Semitism still frightens people. There is always fear. Not daring to go outside wearing a yarmulke, and the surveillance at synagogues, Jewish schools, and shops. We must remain alert in the fight against the big evil that may always raise its head again.” On April 13, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus said in parliament, “There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, honor killings…inciting hatred and violence against those with different opinions and minorities.”
On September 11, two parliamentarians, Gert-Jan Segers (Christian Union Party) and Dilan Yesilgoz (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), organized a roundtable in parliament on anti-Semitism at which Jewish organizations highlighted proposals they believed would help combat anti-Semitism. Proposals included explicit condemnation of anti-Semitic offenses by public officials, heavier penalties for hate crimes, adoption of the European working definition on anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Holocaust education initiatives.
In its annual report issued in April and covering 2017, the NIHR said that in November of that year the National Police had discriminated against a police officer by not allowing her to wear a headscarf with her uniform. The police, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, and politicians from various political parties, however, stated police must convey a neutral and uniform image, and said that was the basis for the ban on wearing any visible and recognizable sign of religion in combination with a uniform. According to Grapperhaus, the National Police disregarded the NIHR’s finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.
According to several religious community leaders, the government continued its policy of not allowing religiously affiliated organizations to proselytize at asylum centers. The government agency charged with overseeing asylum centers, the Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers, again said it had instituted this policy to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment. Some members of religious groups said they continued to have difficulty gaining access to the centers, even as volunteers.
In August Said Bouharrou, spokesman for the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, said the government had not properly communicated the stricter requirements on ritual slaughter that it introduced in 2017, and thereby caused significant unrest within the Muslim community. Richard de Mooij, spokesman for the Association of Slaughterhouses, said the new rules were not unclear, but the procedure had become more cumbersome due to the requirement of having a veterinarian present. According to attorney Herman Loonstein, who represented the only kosher butcher in the country, the stricter rules created some initial problems, but they were resolved after consultations between the communities and the local authorities.
PVV leader Wilders presented draft legislation on September 19 to close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, and to ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public. The bill proposed substantial financial penalties. Wilders tweeted “Islam is no religion but an ideology – totalitarian-like fascism. Let us treat Islam as such and not grant it constitutional protection anymore.” Other parties did not support the bill, and at year’s end parliament had not taken it up for debate.
Wilders unsuccessfully tried in the spring and fall to void his December 2016 court conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally. Wilders argued that the 2016 trial was politically motivated and that his statements were protected free speech. The court did not void the conviction, and Wilders’ formal appeal was scheduled to proceed in spring 2019.
Following the release of a 2017 government report stating that Salafist organizations were growing in the country and promoting intolerance towards others, the government issued a policy paper in October citing its commitment to religious freedom for the wide variety of religious communities in the country. The policy paper stated Dutch society had room for “a huge diversity of [religious] doctrines, opinions, and value systems,” but that within the Salafist movement there were those who promoted intolerance, incited hatred, and rejected government authority. The paper added that religious freedom had limits, and that, while the government did not interfere with religious aspirations, “it must act against those who aim to limit the freedom of people with different views.”
On February 8, Prime Minister Rutte, three deputy prime ministers, Minister of Justice Grapperhaus, and security officials met with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual slaughter. The CJO, Netherlands-Jewish Congregation, Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, Contact Body for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and CIDI attended the meeting. The mayors and responsible aldermen in the larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, also met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. These city governments supported a range of projects, such as educational projects to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, was particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Holocaust commemoration center.
On April 26, the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment. Among the government-funded projects the report cited were several to train teachers to deal with such issues. The University of Amsterdam developed teaching material to address current and historical relations between Jews and Muslims. Other programs trained leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouraged interfaith dialogue through a project titled Building Bridges, which established local networks of persons from different religious communities. In April the government presented a comprehensive manual for local governments on developing a local antidiscrimination policy, including religiously motivated discrimination.
In May the government appropriated two million euros ($2.29 million) of additional funding to expand two sites located at former concentration camps in Amersfoort and Vught currently used for Holocaust education programs for schoolchildren. The camps received growing numbers of visitors, including many school classes. “It is good that these sites keep the memories alive and that stories are not forgotten,” State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis said regarding Holocaust remembrance.
Also as part of the action plan, the government continued to work with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association, local authorities, police officials, the prosecutor’s office, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation NGO on ways to counter anti-Semitic chanting, salutes, and other behavior directed against religious groups during soccer matches. According to the plan, as soon as anti-Semitic chanting occurred, soccer clubs asked supporters to stop immediately. If they did not, the clubs suspended the match. Participants agreed on measures to prosecute offenders or ban them from stadiums. With government funding, the Anne Frank Foundation organized government-sponsored projects such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter anti-Semitic chanting by educating soccer fans on why their actions were anti-Semitic. Another Anne Frank Foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination.
Among the elements of the action plan designed to counter discrimination against Muslims were projects examining how to better enable reporting of discrimination complaints against Muslims, and improve security at mosques. As part of this effort, authorities conducted regional meetings in which representatives of local governments, police, antidiscrimination bureaus, and Muslim communities discussed ways to improve collaboration. Representatives of the Muslim community, National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, national government, local authorities, and police together drafted the Safe Mosque Manual, containing information, recommendations, and best practices for mosques, local authorities, and the police on how to deal together with concrete tension and incidents around mosques.
In the run-up to the March local elections, all major political parties except the DENK and Bij1 Parties, which had a significant number of migrant members, signed an accord in which they pledged to protect the Jewish community in Amsterdam. The signatories to the accord offered support and guidance to schools and teachers that had trouble discussing the Holocaust in the classroom. As a part of the accord, the city of Amsterdam added programs to its existing Holocaust education curriculum for schoolchildren.
In March CIDI called on the government to pay specific attention to anti-Semitism in efforts to combat discrimination; adopt the working definition on anti-Semitism of the IHRA; monitor anti-Semitism on social media; issue heavier penalties for anti-Semitic crimes of violence; make anti-Semitism part of the government’s integration and radicalization policy; bar foreign terrorist fighters from the country; and improve Holocaust education at all schools.
In late November a majority of parliamentarians supported a nonbinding motion to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, per the European Parliament’s 2017 call to EU member states. Foreign Minister Stef Blok stated the government accepted the IHRA definition, although it was not legally bound by it. On December 12, parliamentarians expressed concern over the findings of a survey by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) that Jews perceived anti-Semitism to be on the rise in Europe and the Netherlands. GreenLeft Party Parliamentarian Kathalijne Buitenweg said she would call Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus to parliament to inquire what was being done to counter anti-Semitism.
The government continued to require asylum seekers seeking to obtain a residence permit to sign a statement of participation in civic integration. The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of fundamental values, including freedom of religion.
The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country. This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries, or to approximately 140 Turkish imams appointed by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate. The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch, free of foreign influence.
The government is a member of the IHRA.