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Monday 22 December  
Orthodox Jews in Amsterdam
John Tyler's picture
Rijswijk, Netherlands
Rijswijk, Netherlands

God's word versus Dutch law

Published on : 22 February 2012 - 2:48pm | By John Tyler (Photo: ANP)
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The debate about freedom of religion has erupted again in the Netherlands in the wake of a recent court case. A Dutch judge ruled that a Jewish man should not have been fined for failing to show a police officer his identification on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Orthodox Jews consider carrying an ID equivalent to performing work, which is forbidden on the Sabbath. But according to Dutch law, everyone older than 13 years must be able to show identification when asked.

The case has struck a raw nerve. Freedom of religion in the Netherlands keeps clashing with other fundamental principles. This country has a long history of tolerating different religious practices, but in the post 9-11 world this tolerance must be weighed against security concerns. At the same time, the growing Dutch Muslim community wants to enjoy the same freedom of religion that Christian and Jewish communities have historically enjoyed.

Dutch society is sharply divided on how far freedom of religion should be allowed to go. The issue has come up time and again in the past few years in the enforcement of existing laws, in attempts to scrap laws seen as antiquated, or in proposals for new laws seen as encroaching on the freedom of religion.

Last year, a ban on the ritual slaughter of animals as practiced by observant Jews and Muslims came very close to becoming law. The ban was rejected by the Dutch Senate only after the lower house of parliament had approved it by a large majority. Jewish and Muslim groups joined in fiercely opposing the law. Some Jewish leaders went so far as to say it would mean banishing their communities from the Netherlands.

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In another example, a ban on wearing a burqa or niqab (Muslim clothing which completely covers a woman’s face) is still making its way through the legislative process. Unlike the practice of ritual slaughter, the number of people a burqa ban would directly affect is quite small.

The Council of State, which advises the government as to the constitutionality of proposed laws, is reported to have told the government that it lacks a sound legal justification for the ban. The Council writes that the cabinet seems to be motivated by ‘subjective feelings of insecurity’ among the Dutch population.

Space for freedom of religion
In saying, in essence, that Muslim women should be able to wear clothing prescribed by their faith, the Council of State is maintaining a long-standing Dutch tradition of accepting various religious practices. Orthodox Christians have traditionally enjoyed exceptional status under the law, or influenced laws governing everyone else. To this day, store opening hours are limited on Sundays due to the objections of small orthodox Christian parties.

Homosexual teachers at religious schools can still be fired solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. Attempts in recent years to abolish the law against blasphemy have also been unsuccessful.

The judge’s recent ruling that a Jewish man should not have been fined for failing to show his ID on the Sabbath follows a similar line, allowing a legal exception based on freedom of religion.

Growing sensitivity
That interpretation has become controversial in the 21st century. An indication of the sensitivity of the issue is the speedy reaction by Dutch MPs to the judge’s ruling. Green Left’s Tofik Dibi said the judge had turned the world on its head by placing God above the law, and D66’s Boris van der Ham said religion is just one of many opinions and should not be above the law. MPs intend to submit questions to the government about this specific ruling.

The Public Prosecutor's Office will appeal the judge’s ruling, saying public order requires everyone to carry their ID at all times, even if it is against their religious principles. Whatever the appeals court decides, the debate will rage on.



AMS Paul 28 February 2012 - 2:43pm / Netherlands

The debate over freedom of religion is a red herring. This really illustrates well what is wrong with the statutory obligation to carry ID here in the Netherlands and the potential gross abuse of power by government agents; if bias didn’t play a part here–which I am not sure it didn’t–, I am sure there are too many cases where it does!

annonymous 27 February 2012 - 5:29pm / United States

I would think that national law should be dominant. Would not a Dutch citizen in Israel be expected to respect and obey Israeli law?

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Awesome Ted 23 February 2012 - 10:08am

Though non-religious, I side with the Jews and the Muslims. The ID law makes no measureable improvement on security and is thus an unnecessary affront to liberty. So too the burka ban. It won't free women from being shrouded, it will force them indoors. The proposal is simply a knee-jerk reaction to something unfamiliar.
The proponents of both of these policies are not interested in a free society. They're interested in good 'optics'.

CD Tauber 23 February 2012 - 8:14am

The law is not above morality - personal or corporate. If the law says that I must kill someone, must I do it? I will not. What about paying taxes for immoral practices such as the production and use of weapons? There are limits to what the individual can and should tolerate. The Netherlands has its own past to account for, namely the collaboration of the law during the Second World War. All the acts carried out by the NSB government were "legal". Bravo to the rabbi, the women who wear the niqab and those who stand for morals rather than unthinking obedience. As Einstein put it, "Unthinking obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of Truth".

Anonymous 23 February 2012 - 9:10pm

What morality ? A group of people of which the defendant is a member are exploiting the tragedy of inaction against the nazis to the utmost. What does the state of Israel say about the Armenian tragedy. “ If the world does not remember and worry about the Armenian genocide why should they remember the Jewish one” ( Adolf Hitler). The state of the Netherlands is very dense populated. People with odd convictions should go to the nations where their convictions and moralities are considered normal. In the 1950’s South Africa would have been an ideal country for a white racist to emigrate. Perhaps the defendant believes that “Youtube mr bean in hell” is the truth ? (I’m sorry, the Jews were right ) Einstein was a very great scientist in physics but he was after 1945 only a pathetic old man partially out of touch with realities. Even in physics.

anonymous 23 February 2012 - 8:36am

"Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right."

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knirb 23 February 2012 - 1:21am

The judge's ruling is crackers and these Ultra-Orthodox Jews are being assholes. As an oppressed group, they stand to benefit from extra security measures. There is no point in having an ID requirement some of the time. Israel also has an ID requirement and I can find no evidence there of exemptions for religious zealots.
If they feel so strongly, a solution would be to camp out at the synagogue for the weekend and stay off the streets.

Osita 22 February 2012 - 9:08pm / NL

When the 'kingmaker' political party is financially backed by one particular relgion (due to their stance against a rival religion, what more can one expect? If Rutte grew a spine and stood up to them, even if it meant the collapse of his ridiculed political coalition, at least people could respect his moral judgement.

ID is the law of this land. I have yet to know a Jewish person NOT carry a (at least one) mobile phone at any given time, even on the Sabbatth. This whole court case is a huge joke - of course no man should be above the law of the land because of (any) religion (even the Prophet Mohammed says this in the Quran).

It's time the whole issue was resigned to the history books in all countries. We've moved on.

Tim 22 February 2012 - 11:17pm / Netherlands

This simply hi-lights the conflict that arises when politicians seek office for financial and personal gain rather than public good. If Rutte were a public servant (in the true sense of the word) and not just a self serving politician the issue might never have come to prominenece (like so many others).
The fact that people in the 21st century still look to their invisible 'Super Hero" friends in heaven is even more astounding.

Anonymous 22 February 2012 - 8:52pm

Question : Is the judge a Jew ? Was the police officer a Muslim ? What reason did the officer have to ask for identification ? The nazis did nasty things to mostly white people. We still hear about it more then 80 years later. The Japs did nasty things to mostly non-white people. Knowledge about this much less then about the crimes of the nazis.

Vera Gottlieb 22 February 2012 - 8:30pm / Germany

And how about carrying credit that allowed? Or carrying packages?

Anonymous 23 February 2012 - 1:04am

As far as I know one can carry condoms without any fear or chance of getting arrested and/or detained.

Vera Gottlieb 22 February 2012 - 8:26pm / Germany

And once again, Orthodox Jews stirring up the shit where it isn't necessary. They might not have to do anything they don't wish when living in israel, but when in as the Dutch (or Romans)do. And yes, an 'Ausweis' is needed just like carrying your driver's license is needed.

G. Zellig 23 February 2012 - 6:04am

@Vera Gottlieb (great moniker btw) ... as you seem to be in the know - please explain why the police asked the Jewish man to produce his ID at all. Was he causing some kind of problem ?? I have yet to read any article that explains that part.

Vera Gottlieb 23 February 2012 - 7:26pm / Germany

I don't know, I wasn't present when it happened. Go ask the police. Perhaps he suspected these Orthodox Jews to be Mossad agents in disguise??? What is the big deal about carrying ID? Don't we carry our driver's licenses too?

Anonymous 22 February 2012 - 7:06pm

Why do people need an "Ausweis" like in Nazi Germany? To hell with that crap!.

331 22 February 2012 - 5:15pm / USA

When proable cause is presented that a law enforcement officer needs to have identification presented, it is absolutely neccesary to have this. However, religious tolerance must be viewed. The individual should be fined, but it should be re-routed to the Clerk of the Court or prosecutor under religious grounds so that the individual may then show proper identification and thus have the fine removed upon proper presentation. It should not of gone before the judge. My personal opinion about the individual claiming that is "work" to show identification on Sabbath is weak since that individual is obviously out and about in public is "working" very hard at being in public. I believe that this case of not wanting to show identification is more of a religious fear/backlash for history stemming from the 1940's. The key is "proable cause and need." Did the law enforcement officer have proable cause and a need to see identification?

Roel Raymond 22 February 2012 - 5:15pm / Sri Lanka

Religion IS just one of many opinions and should not be above the law.

jasmin 22 February 2012 - 5:11pm

Though wonder why do we have to announce our faith to the world by wearing symbols or specific makes unseen boundaries around people. I love it when others are not able to guess my faith correctly from my attire and name...Why can't we be free as birds and animals?...Why are we encaged by our orthodox views? Why do we force our religious dogmas on others? Let this be a free world, without fetters of any kind..

jasmin 22 February 2012 - 4:47pm

God and religion are a matter of spirit and spirituality, and should have no bearing on the physicality or day to day activity of any person.We are social beings and should obey the laws of the society because they are for our own benefit.Moreover, we should amend the religious practices according to the prevailing situations and threats. What was valid centuries ago, isn't valid anymore.But ofcourse, we should be tolerant of the other religions and practices and cooperate with all in other ways.

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