Monday, October 18, 2010

Religion and Constitutional Rights

Lately constitutional rights law cases are very much at the centre of public attention in the Netherlands. The cases have a common denominator: religion. The on-going case of Geert Wilders concerning his views on the issues of immigration, Islam and Islamic extremism and freedom of speech in an effort to defend Dutch culture and national identity; the dropping of the case against Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot (pseudonym), persecuted for several years for his anti-Islamic cartoons criticizing Islam’s perceived unwillingness to adopt the Dutch value of tolerance; and last but not least, the case against the ‘Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij’ known by the Dutch acronym ‘SGP’, for not allowing women to stand for election.

The SGP is one of the oldest parties in the Netherlands. It was founded in 1918 by fundamentalist conservative Calvinists. Since entering parliament in 1922, the SGP has always been represented in parliament with two to three seats, because of its very loyal group of voters.
Not only does it reject the obvious subjects such as abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and television, it also rejects women in politics. According to the SGP, the bible is very clear on these subjects. Men and women serve different roles in society and one of the consequences of this role is that women should not participate in politics.

Basing itself on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the ‘Hoge Raad’ [Supreme Court] stated in a ruling* of 9 April 2010, that freedom of religion permits individuals the right to believe what they wish, and it also allows people the right to express their beliefs publicly. It does not, however, provide people with a free pass to violate national and international law. While members of the SGP are entitled to believe and practice their beliefs freely (even if those beliefs are anti-feminist), the party itself should not be allowed to practice those beliefs in a way that contradicts the law.

In a statement, the SGP criticized the ruling as “incomprehensible” and said it would have no immediate effect: “The SGP knows that it is dependent on God in all circumstances and will go on no less strongly carrying out its mission,” it said, “that is, bringing Biblical values into the governance and organization of the Netherlands.”

In its latest June election candidate list there were still only male candidates represented.


On Thursday 14 October 2010 the SGP announced that it would appeal the Supreme Court judgment before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg as the Supreme Court’s decision is at odds with with the ECtHR’s jurisprudence of the freedom of religion and the freedom of political association.

The CEDAW defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." With this in mind, the direct applicability awarded to the CEDAW in the Supreme Court decision can have far reaching consequences for other religions that discriminate against women in the Netherlands.


* Press Release [in Dutch only] ; Decision : LJN BK4549 [in Dutch only] and BK4547 [in Dutch only]

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