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Historical survey

Secularism and cooperation

The Netherlands does not have a state religion, nor does it have a policy of officially recognising religious denominations. However, the relationship between the Dutch state and religion has (...)

The Netherlands does not have a state religion, nor does it have a policy of officially recognising religious denominations. However, the relationship between the Dutch state and religion has always been characterised by extensive involvement of the state with religious expression in public life. In 1917, for example, the settlement of the ‘education struggle’ meant the adoption of Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, establishing complete state funding for schools with a religious (Christian) identity, while safeguarding the freedom of those schools to determine their curricula. This settlement laid the foundation of what is known as the Dutch ‘pillarisation’ (verzuiling). Under this system, society was deeply divided into distinct and mutually antagonistic religious and ideological groups. A stable democracy was made possible through overarching cooperation at the elite level, and by allowing each group as much autonomy as possible. Muslim immigrants used the remnants of the ‘pillar’ model, according to which religious organisations were still considered a legitimate form of representation and community organisation. Muslims have the same right as other religious groups and, if they rely on the same principles as those applied to other religious groups such as Christians, they can obtain recognition for their claims (although often after considerable struggle).
However, the gradual shift towards a more secularised society in the Netherlands, from the 1960s on, has led to the emergence of opinion makers and politicians defending the secular outlook of Dutch society, making ‘secular’ not only a descriptive term but also a normative way of referring to part of identity politics in Dutch society.

D 28 September 2012    AMartijn de Koning

History of religion in the Netherlands

The Constitution of 1814 formed a new starting point for the relationship between church and state. The 1814 Constitution, and the 1815 Constitution even more, contained the idea that the State (...)

The Constitution of 1814 formed a new starting point for the relationship between church and state. The 1814 Constitution, and the 1815 Constitution even more, contained the idea that the State should not interfere with the organisation of the church. In reality, however, the state was still actively involved in church matters. In the revised version of the Constitution of 1848, the chapter on religion was modernised. The 1848 Revision prompted the Roman Catholic Church to restore its hierarchy in the Netherlands. This was achieved in 1853. The same year, the Religious Bodies Act was enacted. Its main merit was to explicitely grant the churches freedom of their internal organisation. This Act remained in force until 1988. The following period was basically one of consolidation as far as institutional relationships between church and state were concerned. In 1983, there was a general revision of the Constitution. The revised Constitution incorporated new fundamental rights including a wide range of social rights. It provided a renewed formulation of fundamental rights which were already protected, and a new formulation of freedom of religion. As of 1983, freedom of non-religious belief is also protected by the Constitution.

D 28 September 2012    AMartijn de Koning

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