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, provided it does not affect 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 ($9,900), 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. Under the law, if the tax authorities determine a group is “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contributes to the general welfare of society, and is nonprofit and nonviolent, they grant it exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes.
The law bans full-face coverings – including ski masks, helmets, niqabs, and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings. 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 ($180).
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 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 relevant training approved by the Ministry of Education 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, provided the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses such as inciting hate speech or action. 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 with which all schools must comply and for monitoring compliance.
Courts may issue fines and arrest warrants against husbands who refuse to give their wives a religious divorce.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Parliament continued to pressure the government to screen the foreign funding of mosques and Islamic institutions to counter the influence of Salafist and radical ideas. On June 25, the parliamentary committee investigating foreign funding of religious institutions published a report of its findings. The report, based on February hearings on the issue, noted a lack of transparency on foreign funding of mosques, the extensive use of social media to disseminate “strict” religious messages within the Muslim community, and the influence of some countries, including Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, in local mosques through their training of imams. The report, however, made no recommendations on how to counter possible extremist influence accompanying donations from “unfree countries” to local Islamic institutions. The Muslim community, Dutch Muslim Council (CMO), and Council of Jews, Christians, and Muslims (OJCM) stated they were disappointed with the report, noting that it did not make a clear distinction between the small number of “ultra-orthodox” Muslim groups and the majority of Muslims active in mainstream society. The OJCM also criticized the inquiry report for not using well-defined concepts, particularly when referring to “unfree countries” and “invisible financing,” and for characterizing all Muslims in the country as radicalized. In statements to media, CMO president Muhsin Koktas questioned why the inquiry focused only on mosques and not on churches and political groups that might also be influenced towards radicalism by foreign funding. Koktas also expressed concern that the report produced a “skewed” picture of the Muslim community.
On November 23, the government stated that it shared concerns of undesirable influences through foreign funding and proposed legislation that would give mayors and the Public Prosecution Service the authority to inspect all donations from outside the EU or European Economic Area to any organization. As of year’s end, the bill had yet to pass. The government also pledged to strengthen local Muslim communities by supporting an imam training program and strengthening mosque boards.
In September, the Second Chamber (the lower house of parliament) organized hearings and debates around a November 2019 proposal presented by People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) parliamentarian Bente Becker to “counter repression in the name of culture and religion.” The plan focused on issues found in certain Muslim communities, such as arranged marriages, honor-related violence, repression of women, forcing women to wear niqabs, female genital mutilation or cutting, and polygamy.
The government continued to require asylum seekers requesting 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.
During the year, authorities rarely enforced the law banning full-face coverings – including niqabs and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings. Public transportation representatives reported a decrease of women wearing niqabs using public transportation. Police stated few incidents were reported, and no one was fined. Some hospital officials said the ban was not an impediment to providing medical treatment, and while some incidents in which healthcare providers requested women wearing niqabs or burqas to take them off in a healthcare facility were reported, no one was denied medical care. Muslim women wearing niqabs reported they were subjected to increased physical and verbal abuse in locations where the ban did not apply, such as parks and shops. On September 22, the DENK political party posted on Twitter, “Niqab-wearers are victims of a badgering law. The women report being verbally and physically attacked because of the ‘burqa law.’ DENK says: ‘Recognize Islamophobia as racism and dismantle the law ASAP!’”
The NGO Report Islamophobia published a report on September 21 stating the “burqa ban” had led to a wave of physical and verbal abuse against Muslims, and it called on parliament to reconsider the law. The report also stated the ban had sparked online “witch hunts” and media articles instructing individuals how to make citizens’ arrests when the law was not enforced. According to the report, minors were involved in approximately half the incidents the foundation studied, usually as the children of the harassment victim. The foundation started a petition to abolish the ban. When the law banning face coverings was passed in 2019, the government said it would evaluate it in 2022, but the foundation called for an earlier review.
Local and national authorities, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, and police consulted closely on security issues with representatives from religious communities.
Local governments, in consultation with the national government, continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. 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 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 implementing such measures. The national government continued to disseminate the 2019 “Security of Religious Institutes” manual, which was developed in consultation with the Muslim community, local governments, and police.
At year’s end, parliament had not scheduled a debate on legislation proposed by the Animal Rights Party to ban ritual animal slaughter. In 2019, the Council of State said the 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 the interest of protecting animal welfare did not outweigh the freedom of religion. On the occasion of Eid al-Adha, Party for Freedom (PVV) leader and member of parliament Geert Wilders tweeted on July 28, “It is a gross disgrace that the government allows and facilitates this Islamic cruelty of the un-anesthetized slaughter of animals. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” On September 25, the Right Resistance and Allies protest movement started an online petition against ritual animal slaughter, which had more than 2,500 signatures at year’s end. On December 17, the European Union Court of Justice ruled EU member states may impose a requirement that animals be stunned prior to slaughter and that such a requirement did not infringe on the rights of religious groups.
The Democrats 66 party and the Socialist Party included in their election platforms ahead of March 2021 general elections a call to amend the article of the constitution that guarantees freedom of education to give the Minister of Education the power to intervene in order to prevent the founding of schools by groups supporting “radical” and “undemocratic” views.
The Second Chamber of parliament adopted a resolution in July urging the government to allow Jewish students to observe the Sabbath in the context of school classes, which occasionally occurred on weekends due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on school schedules.
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 country. The government continued to sponsor leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch.
The Society and Integration Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment published its research report on domestic mosques on July 14. The research found that many imams could not speak Dutch, had insufficient knowledge of the local social context, and therefore had less authority within Muslim communities. The report assessed that this allowed Salafist organizations to take advantage of this space by using guest speakers who were fluent in Dutch to disseminate their message and spread Salafist doctrine in Dutch on the internet. The study recommended mosques support more Dutch language training for imams.
The NIHR reported receiving 26 complaints of religious discrimination in 2019 – mostly in the workplace – compared with 17 in 2018, and issued opinions in nine cases. In one case, the NIHR judged that a Christian school did not discriminate on the grounds of religion when it terminated the labor contract of a teacher because the teacher’s religious views were not the reasons for the contract’s discontinuance. In another case, it judged that a fitness center discriminated against a woman by not allowing her to wear her headscarf in the facility.
On August 5, the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) finished 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. NS announced it paid more than 40 million euros ($49.08 million) in compensation to an estimated 500 Holocaust survivors and 5,000 widows and children during the yearlong application acceptance window. On June 26, NS also announced it would donate five million euros ($6.13 million) to four Holocaust commemoration centers in the country as a “collective expression” of recognition of all Dutch victims of the Holocaust. Domestic and international Jewish communities criticized NS for making this announcement without consulting them as representatives of those who suffered during the Holocaust due to NS’ role. The CJO stated afterward that NS had independently decided the issue, despite Jewish organizations urging NS to work with them to find a way to honor the memory of the many victims by contributing to the care of surviving victims and supporting the rebuilding of “Jewish life decimated” by the Holocaust.
A December 7 report by the ad-hoc Kohnstamm Committee, which was tasked in 2019 with evaluating the government’s artwork restitution policy, found that the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (restitution committee) should be more “empathetic” and less “formalistic” in its response to claims for Nazi-looted artwork. The report rejected the restitution committee’s practice of considering the equities of a museum when making restitution rulings, calling for an end to this “balance of interests” calculation. The report’s recommendations also included a call to resume the search for Jewish owners (or their heirs) of unclaimed artwork in the possession of the government and some museums. The report recommended the government establish a unified and clear framework for restitution policy in one policy document – replacing the multiple different applicable policy documents that currently exist – and create a government-run help desk that would offer information on restitution policy to the public. Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, who was responsible for artwork restitution policy and commissioned the report in 2019, was expected to determine by spring 2021 which recommendations to adopt. The CJO publicly praised the Kohnstamm report after its release, highlighting its criticism of the “balance of interests” calculation and expressing hope that van Engelshoven would adopt all of the recommendations.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The government continued to state that it accepted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism but that it was not legally bound by it. The government shared indicators from this definition with police and Public Prosecutor’s Office so they could take the indicators into account when dealing with incidents of anti-Semitism. The government used the IHRA definition as a practical tool for registration and detection of criminal offenses that could have a discriminatory element. On August 28, Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus rejected criticism by the DENK party that the IHRA working definition was used to muzzle criticism of Israel.
On June 15, 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. The update prioritized local interreligious dialogue and discrimination awareness in education and soccer. In addition to implementing existing measures, the government appropriated 25 million euros ($30.67 million) to enhance education on World War II (including Holocaust education), modernize a number of war museums and commemoration centers, implement educational projects (including regarding the Dutch East Indies during the war), fund scientific research into World War II history, and facilitate digital access to resources and archives on World War II. The cabinet also presented legislation on citizenship education with the goal of increasing mutual understanding and knowledge of other cultures and religions and combating intolerance.
As it had in 2019, the government spent one million euros ($1.23 million) on projects to counter anti-Semitism during the year, with emphasis on the improvement of incident reporting and response. The government appropriation was set to continue until the end of 2021.
In response to a March 2019 resolution by Labor Party parliamentarians Gijs van Dijk and Kristen van den Hul, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment engaged in discussions with representatives of Muslim communities throughout the spring to develop specific policies to counter discrimination against Muslims. The ministry held online focus group sessions comprised of Muslims and non-Muslims to gain insight into countering anti-Muslim discrimination. During the year, the government-funded think tank Knowledge Platform on Integration and Society researched measures other countries were taking to counter anti-Muslim discrimination.
On July 2, the Second Chamber of parliament adopted a nonbinding plan of action put forward by parliamentarians Gert-Jan Segers of the Christian Union Party and Dilan Yesilgoz of the VVD that made concrete proposals to combat anti-Semitism more effectively. The plan proposed 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 a specific national action plan to combat anti-Semitism. Segers stated the fight against anti-Semitism was “a litmus test for our civilization. If we cannot protect the Jewish community of only 50,000 people, we cannot protect anyone.” Yesilgoz stated she received many anti-Semitic messages whenever she spoke out against anti-Semitism. She said it was a problem that individuals felt free to share anti-Semitic statements on social media.
Segers and Yesilgoz said they advocated a targeted approach to combat anti-Semitism because, in their view, a generic antidiscrimination strategy would be ineffective. The government continued to promote its policy of fighting all forms of discrimination equally under its National Action Plan Against Discrimination.
On December 13, Justice Minister Grapperhaus announced the government would establish its first national coordinator for fighting anti-Semitism in early 2021. Grapperhaus said increased anti-Semitism in recent years, particularly online, drove the need for this position, noting that the government “must not leave this battle to the Jewish community alone.” According to Grapperhaus, the coordinator will advise the government on combating anti-Semitism, in cooperation with the Jewish community, for at least one year. The CJO welcomed the news, noting that combating anti-Semitism “requires an integrated approach,” which the future coordinator could influence.
The mayors and aldermen in larger cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, met at regular intervals 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 against Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, remained particularly active in such programming but postponed visits of school children to the Camp Westerbork Remembrance Center, the transit camp to which the Nazis transported Dutch Holocaust victims before taking them to concentration and extermination camps in eastern Europe, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government and security officials met throughout the year with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual animal slaughter. The CJO, Netherlands-Jewish Congregation, Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, OJCM, and NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) attended these meetings.
PVV leader Wilders pursued a campaign calling for the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands,” advocating a series of measures, including closing all mosques and Islamic schools, banning the Quran, and barring all asylum seekers and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. He used social media to disseminate his message. Wilders’ Twitter account, which remained active during the year, contained hundreds of entries criticizing Islam. For example, Wilders posted, “PVV is the only party that wants to stop the Islamic ideology of discrimination, hatred, and violence in the Netherlands. Enough is enough,” on July 25; “Islam does not belong in the Netherlands,” on July 27; “Islam is terror,” on August 15; and “I have a dream. Stop Islam,” on August 28. On February 19, Wilders said Islam was the main cause of rising anti-Semitism in the country. He asserted that Islam was “synonymous with anti-Semitism” and that the Quran “contains a lot more anti-Semitism than Mein Kampf.” Wilders also repeatedly introduced resolutions in parliament calling for a ban on all immigration from Muslim-majority countries to stop “Islamization.”
The Forum for Democracy Party (FvD) stated it did not support the PVV campaign for “de-Islamization” of the country and closure of all mosques, but party leader Thierry Baudet stated that Wilders “has put on the agenda the significant problem of radical Islam and Muslim immigration.” Baudet also called on Islamic schools to embrace Western values.
NL Times reported that on November 15, then FvD parliamentarian Theo Hiddema said on the television program WNL on Sunday that authorities should install wiretapping equipment in Salafist mosques, which he called criminal organizations. Hiddema said, “They are sowing hatred and division against unbelievers and apostates, and that is a crime.” The former head of the Supreme Court, Geert Corstens, who was also on the WNL broadcast, said evidence would be needed before implementing any such measure.
The FvD expelled from its youth group three members who posted anti-Semitic correspondence in the organization’s WhatsApp group on May 1. One message claimed that “Jews have international pedo[philia] networks and help women en masse into pornography.” A second round of correspondence in the FvD’s youth party in mid-November led to the expulsion of an additional individual and the departure of several senior party members, who said they felt Baudet, as party leader, did not deal strongly enough with the incidents. An internal party investigation into the incidents concluded on December 15 that there was no wrongdoing by the youth party or FvD’s parliamentary group in handling the situations.
Citing freedom of expression, authorities in Amsterdam permitted the weekly demonstration of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at Dam Square. CIDI reported the demonstrations frequently used anti-Semitic slogans, such as equating Zionism with racism. Due to the domestic coronavirus outbreak, the city banned all demonstrations on Dam Square as of June. BDS demonstrations were then occasionally held in Amsterdam’s Museumplein plaza instead.
Government ministers, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, regularly spoke out against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in speeches, such as at the annual Auschwitz and Kristallnacht commemorations. King Willem-Alexander attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on January 22, the highest level of Dutch attendance in recent years. In a speech on January 26 at the National Holocaust Commemoration, Prime Minister Rutte apologized on behalf of the Dutch government for having done too little to protect Dutch victims of the Holocaust. This marked the first time the government specifically apologized for actions taken by the state during World War II.
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.
On March 12, the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement in response to multiple complaints to police and antidiscrimination bureaus regarding the January 2019 publication of the evangelical Christian Nashville Statement on the relationship between men and women, which rejected homosexuality and transgender identity. The office stated the language of the Nashville Statement did not constitute a criminal offense because the freedoms of religion and expression were constitutional rights; therefore no prosecutions were warranted.
On September 23, Jacqueline van Maarsen, a childhood friend of Anne Frank, laid the cornerstone of 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. Construction is expected to be completed in 2021. Local residents continued to use legal means of redress to delay construction, saying the monument was too large, the expected large numbers of visitors would become a nuisance, and the residents were not sufficiently consulted.