Religion, Rights and Secular Society

Religion, Rights and Secular Society

European Perspectives

Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

The expectations of many that religion in modern Europe would be swept away by the powerful current of secularization have not been realised, and today few topics generate more controversy than the complex relationship between religious and secular values. The ‘religious/secular’ relationship is examined in this book, which brings together scholars from different parts of Europe and beyond to provide insights into the methods by which religion and equivalent beliefs have been, and continue to be, protected in the legal systems and constitutions of European nations. The contributors’ chapters reveal that the oft-tumultuous legacy of Europe’s relationship with religion still resonates across a continent where legal, political and social contours have been powerfully shaped by faith and religious difference.

Chapter 2: The Netherlands: neutral but not indifferent

Marjolein van den Brink and Titia Loenen

Subjects: law - academic, european law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


Should judges be allowed to wear a headscarf in the courtroom? Are face-covering veils to be banned from the streets? Should state officials be excused from performing same-sex marriages because of their Christian convictions? Can a municipal organisation turn away a Muslim applicant because he refuses to shake hands with colleagues or clients of the opposite sex? Should the government take action to stop an orthodox Christian party from excluding women from standing for election on religious grounds? These are just a small selection of issues involving religious values and practices that have given rise to extensive public debates in the Netherlands, where religion and the accommodation of religious practices are highly contested. In this chapter we will explore the current state of affairs concerning this subject. We will start by briefly explaining the constitutional position of religion and religious freedom (section 2) and the way in which the relationship between church and state has developed over the centuries (section 3). To fully understand the current debates it is necessary to be aware of the peculiar way in which, historically, the Dutch have dealt with tensions stemming from religious pluralism.

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