How politics struggles with conflicting freedoms for education and religion | NOW

The statements by Minister Arie Slob (Education) that reformed schools may have parents sign a statement in which they reject homosexuality, caused quite a stir. Schools have a lot of freedom in the Constitution, but this sometimes clashes with another fundamental right: the principle of equality. The criticism of freedom of education is getting louder.

How much freedom should schools be given? This discussion flares up again and again when the education inspectorate issues a critical report or when a school gets negative in the news.

On Tuesday, Slob (ChristenUnie) got the brunt of the House for defending the rejection of homosexuality, later in the day he partly backed out.

The summer of 2019 was another such moment. Then one day Slob decided to send the directors of two different schools home. This made him the first minister ever to use this horse remedy.

At the time, it concerned the General Hindu Primary School in The Hague and the Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum in Amsterdam. According to the Education Inspectorate, the educational institutions performed so poorly that intervention was necessary.

At the Haga Lyceum, the AIVD security service even gave cause to investigate further. There were signs of “anti-democratic and anti-integration ideology” being spread.

When do fundamental rights get in each other’s way?

Slob was sure of his case, but the judge whistled back to his frustration. The government may not just intervene at educational institutions because of the freedom of education, was the court judgment.

It would not be the first time that the education minister was slapped on the fingers by the judge in the ‘Haga file’. It made him “uncomfortable”.

Remarkably, Slob used Tuesday’s argument of freedom of education to defend the discredited Van Lodenstein College. The Reformed School has parents sign a statement that they reject homosexuality.

It illustrates The Hague’s years of struggle with the subject. When does the freedom of education (Article 23 of the Constitution) hinder the right to be treated equally (Article 1)?

Turn at PvdA and VVD was striking

The discussion around the Haga Lyceum also triggered some parties to rethink their views on educational freedom. The turn was especially striking at the PvdA and VVD.

Who the preliminary election manifestos before the parliamentary elections in March 2021, sees that an amendment to the constitution is one of the possibilities of a cabinet formation.

“Only after a hundred years on Article 23 of the constitution”, PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher wrote about the 1917 law last year. Asscher’s call will be continued in the PvdA program. “Not all schools offer all children the opportunities they deserve.”

Segers and Dijkhoff in debate about freedom of education. (ANP)

The other sound was also striking at the VVD. “An appeal to the freedom of education can never justify a violation of equal treatment,” wrote party chairman Klaas Dijkhoff in a discussion paper for his party.

In the VVD election program it is now written down in such a way that freedom of education (article 23) may not be in conflict with the principle of equality (article 1).

Critical voices from GroenLinks (“Teachers and pupils should not be refused on the basis of their identity”), SP (“Article 23 will be overhauled”) and D66 (“obligation to accept”) had been around for some time. These parties have also included this in their programs for next year.

Christian parties do not want to alter Article 23

The Christian parties CDA, ChristenUnie and SGP in particular do not want to interfere with the freedom of education. These parties fear that special education in general and more specifically Christian schools will come under pressure.

ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers is therefore against an acceptance obligation for schools. “It’s like telling the Party for the Animals: you have to accept a hunter as a member,” Segers said last year during a discussion evening about educational freedom with Dijkhoff. Article 1 is no more important than Article 23, says Segers.

So there seems to be a majority in the House of Representatives in favor of adjusting Article 23, even if you look at trends in the polls. But more is needed for a constitutional amendment, for which the parliament in a new composition must approve a second time, and then with at least a two-thirds majority. Then it will be all about it.


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