juli 10, 2012
My paper for the 1st International Conference of Liberals ”Secularism and civic emancipation in The South East Europe”
July, 6th – 8th 2012 Hotel “Queen of Montenegro”
Regional Conference of the LIBSEEN member-‐parties organized by the Liberal Party of Montenegro under auspices
of the Dutch social-liberal D66 party and the Liberal network LIBSEEN.
Ladies and gentlemen,
First, I want to thank you for your invitation to speak here for this audience. I hope you can learn something from me, but I hope I learn much from you too.
My name is Ewout Klei. I am a member of the Dutch political party Democrats 66. Together with Patrick Bijvoet and Anita van Rootselaar I am a board member of the D66-platform about philosophy and religion, an initiative of Amsterdam-centre council member Thijs Kleinpaste and myself. The platform provides input to the national D66 representatives, organizes debates and discusses the role of religion in society. One of our main goals is to make the political position of D66 on religious topics and secularism in general more profound.
Our platform has a national and a European focus. On the national level, we have been busy with a number of topics, such as 1) religious slaughter, 2) discrimination of homosexuals and/or women by religious organizations and 3) circumcision and female genital mutilation (the Dutch word for female genital mutilation, “vrouwenbesnijdenis” (female circumcision) is more friendly towards religion). We have established good contacts with various platforms, for example Femmes4Freedom who fight against discrimination of women in some strictly orthodox religious circles.
On the European level, we are very concerned about the new constitution of Hungary and the discrimination of religious minorities and non-believers in that country. We have also established contacts with other secular platforms, such as The National Secular Society in the United Kingdom, Catholics for Choice, The European Humanist Federation, La Association Européenne de la Pensée Libre and the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP). The EPPSP is founded by Sophie in ‘t Veld, Member of the European Parliament for D66.
For D66, the separation between church and state is very important. We are against state religions and positive discrimination of religion. All world-views and religions should be treated equally and individuals must have a free choice. We defend both the freedom of religion as well as the freedom from religion.
The separation between church and state is a fruit of the French Revolution of 1789. Before the French Revolution, in France and in the Netherlands there was a state religion. The catholic kingdom of France discriminated protestants and Jews, and the Calvinist Dutch Republic discriminated Catholics, protestant dissenters and Jews. There was no freedom of religion. In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the National Constituent Assembly Of France asserted some fundamental principles. I will read some articles of this important Declaration now:
Article 4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.
Article 5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.
Article 6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.
Article 10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.
Article 11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.
Freedom of religion is intertwined with the freedom of speech in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, as we can see in article 10. People can think and communicate their opinions, including their religious views. The freedom of religion is only limited by the law, in case religious manifestations disturb the public order. Religious freedom is not without responsibility. If a person abuses his freedom, he shall be responsible for his actions.
The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen focuses strongly on the rule of law. The law is the expression of the general will, the democratic will, and all citizens are treated equally and have the same civil rights. The state is not allowed to reserve public positions and occupations for Catholics or protestants only, which was the practice in France and the Netherlands during the Ancien Régime.
The French Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen had a strong influence on the Dutch civil rights. In 1796, one year after the French armies invaded the Netherlands and the Batavian Republic was established, church and state became separated. Before 1796, only members of the Dutch Reformed Church were allowed to occupy public positions. Our first National Assembly however had catholic, Jewish and protestant dissenter representatives. However, when emperor Napoleon met his Waterloo at Waterloo and the House of Orange was back in the saddle, these liberal changes were made undone. After 1848 catholics, Jews, protestant dissenters and new groups like atheists finally were emancipated , thanks to the new liberal constitution of Johan Rudolf Thorbecke.
During the nineteenth century, conservatives fought against the legacy of the French Revolution, and wanted to restore the privileges of the nobility and the church. In the Netherlands, the conservatives were led by Guilliaume (French for William) Groen van Prinsterer, an pious nobleman. In the last years of his life however, Groen realized that it was impossible to reverse all the changes of modernity. He therefore accepted with much pain in his heart the liberal constitution of 1848. His successor, Abraham Kuyper, was a democrat. He was far more enthusiastic about the liberal constitution, and advocated universal male suffrage. His followers, the Christian Democrats, accepted democracy and (sometimes with a little hesitation) the legacy of the French Revolution. The contemporary heirs of Groen however – the Reformed Political Party (de Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij) and the ChristianUnion – are still antirevolutionary. The Reformed Political Party is very conservative. The party is ambiguous towards democracy and only appeals to the human rights when its self-interest is at stake.
The current constitution of the Netherlands, is the constitution of 1983. It starts with the famous first article, which states the Equality by the Law and prohibits discrimination:
All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.
Article 6 is about the Freedom of Religion:
Everyone shall have the right to profess freely his religion or belief, either individually or in community with others, without prejudice to his responsibility under the law.
Article 7 is about the Freedom of Speech:
No one shall require prior permission to publish thoughts or opinions through the press, without prejudice to the responsibility of every person under the law.
Importantly, the aforementioned article six of the Dutch 1983 constitution gave the freedom of religion its own separate article. Not only the individual freedom of religion is protected in our current constitution, but the freedom of religious communities is too.
Most political discussions on religion in the Netherlands are discussions about article 1, 6 and 7 of the constitution. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion on the one hand, and the ban on discrimination on the other hand, can sometimes clash. This is the case in homophobic statements for example.
In 1998, the Dutch politician Leen van Dijke, member of the Reformatory Political Federation (a political party that in 2000 merged in the ChristianUnion) was condemned to a fine of 300 guilders, because of the offending nature of remarks he made about homosexuals. In an interview in 1996, the MP told that he considered homosexual people who practice their orientation as in the same category as swindlers. In the court session Van Dijke based his defense on the fundamental rights of religion and speech. The court ruled that Van Dijke wrongly tried to avoid a sentence by referring to the freedom of religion and speech. These liberties also have their limits, the court said. Van Dijke appealed however, and in 2001 he was cleared by the High Court. Because Van Dijke´s remarks were based on his religious conviction, he was allowed to make them. If he had only based his defense on the Freedom of Speech, he would have been found guilty. Examples like these lead to the important question whether it is true that people who appeal to the Freedom of Religion indeed have more freedom of speech than people with no religion, and if so whether this is justified. Some liberal Dutch politicians, such as Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), want to abolish the Freedom of Religion as a separate right. I myself find this statement a little too radical, but strongly I agree with them that non-believers must have the same civil rights as believers.
Sometimes Article 23 (the Freedom of Education) plays an important part in the discussions about religion too. Religious private schools received subsidy and are allowed to make their own identity policy. They can fire teachers and expel students who are homosexual. Private religious school nowadays cannot fire homosexual teachers solely on the ground that they are homosexual, because of the Equal Treatment Act of 1993.
In 2011 the homosexual teacher Duran Renkema was fired. Most likely, this happened because of his homosexuality, but the school’s official statement was that he was guilty of adultery and therefore fired. He was first married to a woman, after which he lived together with a man. Ignoring the fact that Renkema’s ex-wife was perfectly fine with it, and that she hoped that Renkema had finally found his happiness, the school wanted to get rid of him. Renkema said that he respected the Christian identity of the school and that in his belief, Christianity and homosexuality did´t have to exclude each other, but the school didn´t respect this particular belief and wanted to bring him into line.
The ChristianUnion staunchly supported the discriminatory policy of the school and their statement, that Renkema was an guilty of adultery. Not the expulsion of homosexuals was discrimination, but conservative Christians were discriminated by the secular majority and the gay lobby who want to enforce their liberal views on Christian schools. Conservative Christians in the Netherlands framed the political debate and portrayed themselves as the victims, instead of the offenders.
According to D66, homosexual teachers and students are equally eligible as heterosexuals. The principle of non-discrimination is not only prescribed in the case of public positions, but has to be the policy too in the case of private religious schools. Christian homosexuals like Renkema form a minority within a minority. D66 of course defends minority rights against discrimination of the majority, but also wants to defend the rights of the individual against discrimination of a minority. Majorities can bring people into line, but the case of Renkema clearly shows, that minorities can that too.
Last but not least, there is the discussion about the Freedom of Religion and the neutrality of the state. Are Muslim women allowed to wear a headscarf in civil service? And may a civil servant refuse to marry gay couples? Or does the law apply to everyone? Muslim women with a headscarf don´t discriminate others, while civil servants who refuse to marry gay couples do. Therefore, D66 only fights against the so-called ‘weigerambtenaren’ (the Dutch word for these type of civil servants). The other liberal party in the Netherlands, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, also wants make an end to the weigerambtenaren, but due to its dependence on the outside support of the Reformed Political Party, there is still room for discrimination. Despite its small size, the ultraconservative Reformed Political Party can block liberal legislation.
The Dutch state nowadays is quite neutral and wants to treat all its citizens equal, but unfortunately the separation between church and state is still not complete. Every law begins with the statement that the Queen rules the Netherlands `by the grace of God´. This practice reminds me of the time of the Absolute Monarchy in France, when French Kings ruled their country by ´droit divin´ (divine right). Besides, Dutch coins have the edge lettering ´God zij met ons´ (God is with us). Moreover, the Queens´ throne speech ends with God´s blessing. Furthermore, in various Dutch municipalities every council meeting begins with a prayer. Finally, all Dutch communities are (in principle) allowed to open shops for only twelve Sundays a year, but in some areas, little use is made of this due to severe pressure from conservative Christians claiming Sunday as a day for worship only. One of the goals of D66 is to make an end to these theocratic elements in our political system.
Freedom of Religion in the Netherlands is a fruit of the French Revolution. It is an important civil right. In the first place it serves as a freedom for individuals, but in the second place it also serves as the freedom for communities to express their worship. Conservative believers however sometimes appeal to this freedom with the purpose to discriminate others, thereby abusing this freedom. The Freedom of Education faces the same problems. Conservative believers are framing the political debate about religion, portraying themselves as the victims. It is the task of liberal politics, to defend the Freedom of Religion, the Freedom of Speech and the principle of non-discrimination, to complete the separation between church en state and to unmask the attacks on this principles by conservative believers who only wants to abuse and undermine these rights.
Ewout Klei, Ph.D.
Ewout Klei (1981) is specialized in political and religious history. He wrote his master thesis about the Dutch politician Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol (1741-1784). This advocate of the American struggle for Independence and leader of the Dutch patriot movement deeply inspired the populist politician Pim Fortuyn (1948-2002). In 2011 Klei finished his Ph.D.-thesis about the Reformed Political Alliance, a small conservative Christian party in the Netherlands, with little power but from time to time some influence.
In 2011, Klei founded the D66-platform of Philosophy en Religion. Klei is now committee member of the platform.