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 ($9,100), 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 a group meets specific criteria, they grant it 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 August 1, the ban on full-face coverings – including ski masks, helmets, niqabs, and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings – came into force. According to the law, authorities must first ask individuals violating the ban to remove the face covering or to leave the premises. Those refusing to comply may be fined 150 euros ($170).
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. If they do not comply with NIHR’s opinion, plaintiffs may take their case to a regular court.
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. Parties involved in disputes are not forced to accept mediation decisions of the local boards.
The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions must 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. The law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools. Teachers with special training to do so teach classes about a specific religion or its theology in some public schools, 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 that are government funded are free to determine the content of their religious classes and make them mandatory, if 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 for monitoring compliance.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The August 1 implementation of the law banning full-face coverings – including niqabs and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings generated societal debate. On August 9, a few dozen women wearing niqabs and other supporters demonstrated against the ban in The Hague. They argued the ban limited the individual freedom of women and isolated Muslim women who might be afraid to take their children to school or a hospital. Advocates of the ban insisted that the law be enforced, including one advocate, Party for Freedom (PVV) leader and Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, who described it as a prelude to a future ban on headscarves. Opponents of the law viewed it as largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small, estimated by officials to be between 150 and 400. The Federation of Islamic Organizations, among others, urged authorities not to enforce the law.
The institutions involved in the ban expressed reluctance to enforce it, stating the ban should not interfere with their regular business. Hospitals stated they would never refuse care to a woman for wearing a niqab. Public transportation companies stated they were obliged to transport anyone with a valid ticket and objected to any interruption of their regular service. Police stated they would not prioritize responses if called about these types of incidents. Following the introduction of the ban, there were two incidents, one involving a bus in Stein, Limburg, on August 19, and the other a train at Rotterdam Central Station on September 16, in which women wearing niqabs refused to show their faces or to leave the vehicles. In both cases, the women eventually left the vehicles after police insisted on compliance with the law, and neither was fined. Activists posted video on Facebook showing the train conductor involved in one of the incidents, who became the target of threats.
After the ban came into force, the local Rotterdam-based Islamic political party NIDA offered to pay the fine on behalf of any woman cited for violating the face-covering ban, stating it viewed the ban as an infringement on religious freedom. The women’s rights organization Femmes for Freedom filed a complaint against NIDA, stating that NIDA was breaking the law by offering to pay the fine.
The Central Appeal Council, one of the highest administrative courts, ruled on several cases in February in which social welfare recipients refused employment and training based on religious belief. In one case, a Muslim man refused to shave off his beard, a requirement for wearing a safety hood in a specific training job. The council ruled that in this case the legal requirement of wearing the safety hood, which protected the employee, outweighed the individual’s right to freedom of religion.
During the campaign for March provincial council elections, PVV leader Wilders reiterated that his party’s primary objective was to promote the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands” through a series of measures, including closing all mosques and Islamic schools, banning the Quran, and shutting out all asylum seekers and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. He used social media to disseminate his message. Wilders’ Twitter account contained hundreds of entries criticizing Islam. For example, on September 27, Wilders tweeted, “Islam is a sect of hatred and violence. Islam and freedom do not go together, anywhere. That is why all Islamic schools and mosques must be shut…” On April 22, he tweeted, “We need (inter)national laws to declare Islam a violent totalitarian ideology. We should not grant freedom to a doctrine that takes our freedom away from us.”
In May the Council of State – which reviews and issues advisory opinions on any legislation before it is considered in parliament – issued a negative opinion on a draft law Wilders proposed in 2018 that would close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public, and levy substantial fines on violators. According to the council, the proposed legislation “seriously and unacceptably devalues the core elements of the democratic rule of law and violates the constitutional right of freedom of religion.” The council rejected Wilders’ assertion that Islam is “a totalitarian ideology of conquest” and stated the redefinition of a religion is illegal. Wilders stated he intended to proceed with the parliamentary review of his proposal; no other party supported the bill. Parliament had not scheduled a debate on the draft law by year’s end.
Wilders’ appeal at the Hague Appellate Court of his 2016 conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally continued at year’s end.
The Forum for Democracy Party did not support the PVV campaign for “de-Islamization” of the country and closure of all mosques, but party leader Thierry Baudet stated Islam posed a threat to society, opposed the construction of new mosques, objected to school visits to mosques, characterized submitting children to fasting during Ramadan as child abuse, and favored amending the constitutional right to freedom of education to preclude the foundation of Islamic schools.
On September 12, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Wouter Koolmees and Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker wrote a letter to parliament based on findings from a task force the government created to advise and assist with what it described as problematic behavior within the Salafist community. The ministers stated Muslim communities were those most affected by “the problematic influence of these Salafist protagonists, as a result of which children turn their back on society,” and because others blamed the Muslim community as a whole for the problems of a small group. They added the government supported Islamic voices who spoke out against problematic behavior. Created in 2018, after a 2017 Ministry of Social Affairs report stating Salafist groups were growing and promoting intolerance, the task force worked with police, local authorities, and communities. A February 11 letter from Koolmees to parliament stated the government focused only on “criminal and/or problematic behavior from the perspective of the democratic rule of law within segments of the Salafist movement.”
Parliament continued to pressure the government to counter the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions to stop the influence of Salafist and radical ideas. The government worked on legislation to make foreign financing transparent but stated it was reluctant to ban foreign financing altogether, considering potential diplomatic repercussions, erosion of national credibility on human rights and the rule of law, and possible negative repercussions to national NGOs active abroad. It also worked on legislation to ban financing of civil society organizations from “unfree” countries and to obtain more powers to ban entities whose activities violate public order, but it had not presented either piece of legislation to parliament as year’s end.
The press reported in September that 44 of the 52 Islamic primary schools used a sexual diversity textbook that states boys and girls should not look at each other or wear clothing of “the infidel,” and that “Allah despises homosexuality.” The Education Inspectorate saw no reason to intervene because the “basic values of the democratic rule of law are not violated.”
The Education Inspectorate reproached the Jewish Cheder primary school and the Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum for using inappropriate civics curricula based on their own interpretation of religious rules. Both schools received government funds that required them to adhere to a minimum state requirement on curriculum content. Authorities found problems with the Jewish Cheder primary school’s religious curriculum not including information on homosexuality and the school’s policy of separating boys and girls into different religious classes instead of holding mixed-gender classes. Authorities had no concerns with Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum’s curriculum but found problems with its management. Media also reported that most private afterschool Salafist classes taught their students a strict interpretation of Islam and to turn their back on Dutch society.
There was growing political pressure from various secular parties, including Labor Party and Democrats 66, to amend Article 23 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of education, to give the minister of education the power to intervene in order to prevent the foundation of schools supporting radical and undemocratic views. In response, Education Minister Arie Slob of the Christian Union (CU) party stated, “Parents must be able to choose a school that befits their education. It is wrong to assume that problems can be resolved by restricting the freedoms of a certain group.”
In July the city council of the predominantly Christian community of Westland denied a permit to start an Islamic primary school, even though the school met the criteria, according to Minister of Education, Culture, and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven. In April the Council of State ruled the Ministry of Education must facilitate and finance the new school over the objections of local authorities. There were continuing discussions between the Ministry of Education and the local government at year’s end.
On August 5, the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) began accepting online applications for compensation to Jewish, Roma, and Sinti Holocaust victims whom NS transported to transit camps ultimately leading to concentration and extermination camps during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The company said it would pay between 7,500 and 15,000 euros ($8,400-$16,900) to an estimated 500 Holocaust survivors and 5,000 widows and children. The application window was scheduled to remain open until August 5, 2020.
The government continued to state that it accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism but was not legally bound by it. In February the government reported the Ministry of Justice and Security shared the indicators from this definition with the police and prosecutor’s office so that they could take them into account when dealing with incidents of anti-Semitism.
In February the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan Against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Islamic sentiment and anti-Semitism. It stated the government must continue to implement existing measures vigorously. These included projects to train teachers to deal with discrimination issues including on the basis of religion, and leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouragement of interfaith dialogue through the Building Bridges project, which establishes local networks of persons from different religious communities. The update tightened the instructions for the prosecutor’s office to facilitate prosecution of discriminatory expression, including religious, on social media. The government also appropriated nine million euros ($10.1 million) for the education work by museums and commemoration centers, the Anne Frank Foundation, and the National May 4 and 5 Committee to incorporate contemporary issues, such as combating anti-Semitism and discrimination, into education on World War II.
In May the cabinet appropriated three million euros ($3.4 million) to enhance existing efforts to combat anti-Semitism following an April paper by parliamentarians Gert-Jan Segers of the CU party and Dilan Yesilgoz of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which made concrete proposals to combat anti-Semitism and other calls for action. The paper proposed the following measures: improving mandatory education about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, including the history of the Jewish community in the country; increasing support to teachers to raise these subjects in the classroom; creating a safe environment at school; reaching out to Jewish youth; focusing attention on the Holocaust, World War II, and freedom of religion in the mandatory integration courses for immigrants; providing structural security to Jewish institutes and synagogues; training police to recognize anti-Semitism; promoting policies to encourage victims to file complaints with police; pursuing zero tolerance with respect to anti-Semitism on the internet and during soccer matches; appointing a national anti-Semitism coordinator; and developing an action plan to combat anti-Semitism. Segers stated, “We have failed if we cannot offer a safe existence to the Jewish community…”
In January several political parties in Amsterdam presented a nine-point plan to combat anti-Semitism more effectively, including: stimulating improved education on the Holocaust and the history of Jews in the capital; fighting prejudice; requiring every student to visit Westerbork Camp (from which Jews and others were transported to concentration camps to the east); launching a campaign to encourage victims of anti-Semitic incidents to file complaints; and advocating the appointment of a local coordinator for combating anti-Semitism in Amsterdam. The city implemented these measures during the year.
The mayors and responsible aldermen in larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, again met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest. These city governments continued to support a range of projects, such as educational programs to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, remained particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Camp. On a March visit to the Westerbork Camp, State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis expressed his desire to make the discussion of anti-Semitism in the classroom mandatory. In May The Hague said it would finance school excursions to the Westerbork and Auschwitz concentration camps.
In May the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) proposed several measures to combat anti-Semitism more effectively: improve education on the Holocaust and Jews; help teachers recognize and combat anti-Semitism; teach immigrants about the Holocaust, Jews, and democratic rule of law; identify anti-Semitic incidents more clearly; accelerate the reporting procedures for such incidents; encourage victims to report incidents; train policemen in handling anti-Semitism complaints; impose heavier penalties on anti-Semitism; make clearer agreements with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association (KNVB) about halting matches after an anti-Semitic incident; and observe zero tolerance for criminal discrimination online, including anti-Semitism. The government began implementation of several of recommendations, while others remained pending.
CIDI organized a demonstration in front of the Dutch parliament on May 29 to support the wearing of the yarmulke, or kippah, after the German government’s anti-Semitism ombudsman warned Jews not to wear them in public because of the increasing likelihood of being attacked. During this demonstration Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and spokespersons of the main political parties expressed solidarity with the Jewish community and spoke out for a more vigorous approach to combat anti-Semitism.
Local governments, in consultation with the national government, continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. Eddo Verdoner, chairman of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), said his organization worked closely with national and local authorities to provide security to Jewish institutions so that Jews could feel safe without withdrawing from society. The volunteer organization For Life and Welfare also provided private security to Jewish institutions and events.
Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions as necessary, and local authorities worked with Islamic institutions on enhancing the security and resilience of mosques and other religious institutes, as well as their visitors. The national government continued to support this local approach and developed materials to assist religious institutes and local governments in implementation measures. The national government published a “Security of Religious Institutes” manual in consultation with the Muslim community, local governments, and police. Local and national authorities, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), and police consulted closely on security issues with representatives from religious communities.
In January Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema announced the city would provide more security to Islamic institutions based on threat assessments by local and national authorities. The city engaged in talks with Islamic institutions on maximizing security and adopted supplemental security measures, similar to those it adopted in previous years for Jewish institutions.
In response to the March attacks on mosques in New Zealand, Justice and Security Minister Grapperhaus informed parliament that authorities were closely monitoring threats, and the NCTV maintained close contacts with local authorities, which in turn consulted with mosques on increased security measures, including greater police presence but also increasing self-reliance of mosques to protect themselves by discussing best practices, including installing closed-circuit television cameras and monitoring who is entering the mosque. The NCTV also met with the Dutch Islamic Council, and local mayors visited mosques.
Several politicians and the CJO condemned the October 9 attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany. “Sickening, cowardly, and terrible,” tweeted VVD parliamentarian Dilan Yesilgoz. The CJO asked if anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe and wrote, “The CJO calls in the Netherlands for education and information. Only by knowing each other do we diminish mutual hatred…CJO calls on everyone not to be intimidated. Be yourself and live your culture without fear.”
On May 3, the CU and Reformed Calvinist parties and CIDI launched a petition calling on the European Commission to make combating anti-Semitism in Europe one of its priorities. They stated Jews continued to be targets of prejudice and hatred and synagogues and Jewish schools required protection. The petition also called for a more effective approach of anti-Semitism in Europe. Within a few weeks, more than 19,000 people had signed the petition, including several leading politicians from other parties.
The NIHR reported receiving 17 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018 – mostly in the workplace – compared with 13 in 2017 and issued opinions in nine cases. In one case, it judged that a primary school did not make a prohibited distinction on the grounds of religion when it refused to offer an internship to a woman who refused to shake hands with men. The NIHR stated the school policy on etiquette was consistent and objective. In another case, it judged that a Protestant school could elect not to hire a teacher wearing a headscarf because the school held a consistent and legitimate policy prohibiting clothing reflecting non-Christian religious beliefs based on the school’s Protestant values.
The Animal Rights Party introduced draft legislation to ban ritual slaughter of animals. In May the Council of State said the proposed legislation “constitutes a serious infringement on freedom of religion, violates the human rights of Jews and Muslims,” and should therefore not be introduced. The council stated that the interest of protecting animal welfare did not outweigh the freedom of religion. Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme stated she would continue to seek parliamentary support for the ban. At year’s end, parliament had not scheduled a debate on the proposed legislation.
In June parliament adopted a nonbinding resolution calling for the deployment of specialized detectives to deal with complaints about anti-Semitic incidents or other incidents of discrimination. Parliamentarians of several parties, including Democrats 66, Labor Party, and Denk, stated they hoped the measure would encourage victims to file complaints. According to CIDI, those who reported an incident often believed police did not take them seriously, and in some cases this dissuaded them from filing a complaint.
Government and security officials met throughout the year 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 such meetings.
In its most recent report covering the year, CIDI reported three anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the Denk Party and PVV. For example, the report cited multiple anti-Semitic comments on Facebook in response to a video posted by Denk party leader Tunahan Kuzu while visiting Palestinians in Hebron, such as “The Holocaust never happened, it was invented by Jews to snatch away land”; “Zionist Jews do the same as what Hitler did”; and “If Hitler had dealt with Jews properly, Palestine would be free today.” CIDI criticized Denk for failing to remove the comments.
Citing freedom of expression, authorities in Amsterdam declined to act against the weekly demonstration of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the Dam Square, despite the frequent use of anti-Semitic texts and Israeli flags covered in swastika and cockroach designs. CIDI appealed directly to the mayor to intervene after police did not respond to repeated complaints; the mayor’s office took no action.
Although authorities, the KNVB, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation had multiple agreements in place to discourage anti-Semitic behavior at soccer matches, participants did not always carry out the terms of the agreements. For example, one agreement stipulated that if anti-Semitic chanting arose, clubs would ask fans to stop immediately and, if they did not, suspend the match; however, the matches were rarely suspended. In one example, on January 27, Feyenoord soccer club hooligans engaged in anti-Semitic chanting outside the stadium in Rotterdam ahead of the Feyenoord-Ajax match. Police intervened and arrested five supporters, who were fined 500 euros ($560) each. That same day, similar chanting occurred ahead of a match between Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar. AZ Alkmaar developed a policy to discourage such chanting, which it said was becoming more effective.
The Anne Frank Foundation continued to organize government-sponsored and government-funded 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 foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination among soccer fans.
In April several political parties and CIDI urged the state secretary for migration to deny a U.S.-based preacher entry to the country because of what they described as his offensive anti-Semitic and homophobic statements based on his own biblical interpretations. The preacher canceled the visit.
In January the government, most political parties, the Protestant Church Netherlands (PKN), and other groups protested the signing by approximately 250 Protestant ministers and others of the evangelical Christian Nashville Statement on the relationship between men and women, which rejected homosexuality and transgender identity. On behalf of the government, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said the statement showed “emancipation is far from over. This is a step back in time. We still have a long way to go.” PKN president Rene de Reuver characterized the Nashville statement as “theologically one-sided and pastorally irresponsible.”
The Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers (COA) – the agency charged with overseeing asylum centers – said it prohibited religious activities in the centers to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment. COA continued to prohibit religiously affiliated organizations from proselytizing at asylum centers. It allowed the Consultation Body for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (OJCM), however, to organize pilot programs at two asylum centers discussing freedom of religion and the importance of nondiscrimination in Dutch society. The OJCM requested COA to allow it to organize such talks at all asylum centers.
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 and those with association agreements with the EU, such as Turkey, whose Religious Affairs Directorate appoints approximately 140 Turkish imams to serve in the Netherlands. The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch.
After the Amsterdam Administrative Court dismissed all objections to its development on July 9, construction started on the National Holocaust Monument in Amsterdam, which is government and privately supported and will carry the names of all 102,000 Dutch victims of the Holocaust. Local residents said the monument was too large, the expected large numbers of visitors would become a nuisance, and the residents were not sufficiently consulted.
At the request of parliament, in July the cabinet appointed Jos Douma as the first Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief. Douma stated his goal was to promote tolerance: “The issue is that we protect people, whether they are believers or not.” The Democrats 66 party requested that the envoy also speak out vigorously on the rights of nonbelievers.
An investigation begun in 2018 into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements in 2017 continued at year’s end.
According to Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, the National Police continued to disregard an NIHR finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.
The government is a member of the IHRA.