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Religious Pluralism and the Dutch State: Reflections on the Future of Article 23 (with James Kennedy)

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Religious Pluralism and the Dutch State: Reflections on the Future of Article 23 (with James Kennedy)
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  12religious pluralism and the dutch state:reflections on the future of article 23  James Kennedy and Markha Valenta 12.1introduction  What should be the state’s relation to religion and to religious institutions in asetting where the nature and function of both state and religion are changingsignificantly? More specifically, what is the place and the use of Article 23 in asociety that is no longer officially organized along socio-religious lines and wheremany consider such divisions disruptive rather than productive? And moregenerally, how are we to understand the role of schooling in a multi-religious andmulti-ethnic democratic society?The place of religion in public life is determined by a number of factors, not least the state, which determines the ‘constitutional’ conditions under which religionplays a legitimate role in public life. In this respect, the state can never be neutralwith respect to religion, and it is precisely the fiction of state neutrality that hasexacerbated political and social conflict in countries where this naïve assumptionis held to be the underpinning of public life, including France, and in a different way, the United States. In America, the principle of state neutrality in the domainof education has been interpreted in two, often contradictory ways: the state isneutral insofar as it is non-sectarian (it posits a broad civil religion that standsabove ‘sectarian’ faith), or the state is neutral insofar as it avoids or proscribes anyreligious expression. This whole debate has been fueled since the 1960s by educa-tional issues, in particular the role, if any, for school prayer in American publicschools and, more recently, the question of whether or not to teach Intelligent Design in biology classes. The American situation illustrates the impossibility of a state being ‘neutral’ in respect to religion (Kennedy 2006). For this reason, it isunfortunate that many Dutch have in recent years spoken more of the need forthe ‘separation of church and state’, a Jeffersonian phrase that in Americanhistory has helped render debate over church-state relationships largely unfruit-ful (Hamburger 2002). 12.2religion in the dutch public sphere: the legacy ofpillarization and depillarization The Dutch state itself has never been neutral in respect to religion; indeed, exten- sive involvement of the state  with religious expression in public life has been thetraditional approach. Extensive involvement of the state with religious expres-sion, including religious-inspired education, however, is not how many Dutchview the situation. The ‘pacification’ of 1917 – namely the passage of Article 23establishing complete state funding for previously ‘private’ schools with a reli-gious identity while safeguarding such schools’ freedom to determine their 337 religious pluralism and the dutch state: reflections on the future of article 23  educational content – was the result of long efforts on the part of orthodoxProtestants and Roman Catholics to keep the state at a distance from a realm,education, that did not in the first instance belong to it, but to parents. The neo-Calvinist notion of ‘sphere sovereignty’ and the Catholic subsidarity principleinsisted, in different ways, that intermediary groups, not the state, assume theprimary task of educating the young. In an important sense, then, the Dutcheducational arrangements of nearly a century ago delimited the role of the state ineducation. To this day, in fact, the Dutch government is hesitant to intrude toodirectly in the religious and other ‘levensbeschouwelijke’ mission of ‘private’(’bijzondere’) schools despite the fact that they are almost wholly dependent onstate financing. For example, the recent discussion, launched by the Minister of Education among others, of how to promote citizenship in the curriculum ispartly defined by the issue of whether private schools should in any measure beforced to adopt a curriculum that might undermine their religious foundations.For these reasons, the Dutch system has generated support from defenders of private schools who are thankful for an educational system that gives them agreat deal of latitude to sustain their own religious identities (Monsma and Soper1996).For precisely the same reasons, the Dutch educational system has engenderedcritics, particularly in recent years, who regard the system as too accommodatingtoward religion. This has led them to decry a situation in which the secular statehas been constrained from ensuring that all Dutch pupils be able, or mandated, tofree themselves from religious traditions that are presented as highly ‘unfree’,dated, oppressive and discriminating. In particular, widespread concern has beenexpressed with regard to the state-financed institutionalization of Islamic educa-tion. The intensity and breadth of concerns in Dutch society with regard toIslamic education, in turn, has both strengthened and expanded the number of critics who oppose the current system as obsolescent, because its great accommo-dation of religious conviction would seem to no longer jibe with the realities of astrongly secularized, democratic society. Here, in general terms, the argument isessentially the same as in the more specific critique of Islamic schools: the secularstate has conceded too much to religious particularism. These critics have beenmost vocal on the issue of state funding of private religious schools, arguing that it should be entirely abolished. They are less clear, and less unified, with regard tothe second component of Article 23, namely freedom of education: should onlystate funding of educational institutions with a specific religious content andidentity be prohibited, or should this measure be extended to also prohibiting theexistence of any private religious schools whatsoever within Dutch society (astandpoint potentially in conflict with the European Convention on HumanRights)?But the fact that Dutch schools enjoy a measure of religious autonomy and that many people object to this autonomy, should not obscure the fact that in realityprivate schools have actually been operating deeply within the Dutch state’s orbit of influence. This is most transparently the case with respect to financing and geloven in het publieke domein 338  inspection; in most respects, schools are obliged to follow the guidelines issued by the state, as they are evaluated annually along universal criteria and subjectedto government financing. In the United States, this has in fact been one reason(though probably not the most important) that state subsidies to religiousschools have not been systematically enacted; some religious conservatives treat state subsidies with suspicion, precisely because they see such funding as the endof institutional independence for religious schools. And indeed, the resolve of many privately funded American schools to establish their own curricula anddevelop a countercultural identity is generally more assertive than that of manyof the state-financed, private schools in the Netherlands.By contrast, the limits that state financing might place on religious schools’maneuvering room has seldom constituted much of a concern here in the Nether-lands in past decades, though a few orthodox Protestant seminaries reject statefunding on these grounds. Only more recently has the issue indirectly come tothe fore, and then as a result of the discovery that traditionalist Islamic schools inthis country were being partially financed by Saudi sources. In other words, theconcern here was not so much the issue of state influence on educational institu-tions per se, as that of a foreign government’s influence on educational establish-ments within the Netherlands. Given, however, that the French, British andAmerican governments, among others, have for years either had their owneducational institutions or in other ways have contributed to educational institu-tions in the Netherlands, the issue here too was most specifically the question of how to respond to the new situation of Dutch students attending institutionspossibly influenced not so much by a foreign government per se but by a non- Western, Islamic one. This suggests that the deep emotional charge that hasmarked debates about state funding for religious education in recent years derivesnot only, and perhaps not even primarily, from the issue of church-state relationsas such, but rather from the question of how to transmit Dutch national identity,values and ways of life in the face of what might be called an increasing ‘intimacy’and direct intermingling between Western and non-Western peoples, culturesand institutions in the Netherlands. To the extent that this is not acknowledged,this makes the debate about Article 23 particularly messy, insofar as this one topic– the relation of the state to religious institutions – is simultaneously functioningas the means to another discussion – the place and role of citizens of non-West-ern descent in Dutch society when Dutch society no longer can be shielded fromthe effects of globalization (a point to which we’ll return below).First, however, it should be remarked that more important than money and regu-lations alone in shaping the relatively comfortable relation between Dutchprivate religious schools and the state, is the fact that private schools have neverstood apart from the Dutch political establishment. Private schools are well-represented in (semi-)governmental organs and their representatives have longnetworked with administrators and politicians (across the political spectrumrather than only those representing the Christian political parties) in settingpolicy. Nor was this merely a matter of educational groups lobbying government; 339 religious pluralism and the dutch state: reflections on the future of article 23  in P.E. Kraemer’s ‘societal state’, his classic 1966 study of Dutch public life, thedistinction between state and society (including its formally private schools)could scarcely be made (Kraemer 1966). In effect, the state, in subsidizing theorgans of civil society – including religious schools – helped support and sustainreligious practices and communities that extended beyond the institutionalchurch.All of this is well-known. But it is important to note – for that is now oftenforgotten – that these broad concessions to religious groups did not lead to anAmerican-style arrangement as described by De Tocqueville, in which ‘strong’religion stood over and against a ‘weak’ state (Gret Haller 2002), and where religious groups were given free rein to define civil society according to theirinfluence and insight. Rather, these concessions by the Dutch state to variousreligious institutions have enabled the state to closely monitor and regulate what many religious groups are doing, and set the parameters for their continuingparticipation in public life. Religiously-inspired organizations with state subsi-dies – including religious schools – have not operated independently of the state.Rather, in lending its aid, and through the interrelationship of Dutch elites, thestate has in effect helped define religious subcultures with their own organiza-tions and elites, who have understood their collective identities in ways that would be considerably different if they did not receive support from, and wereless directly supervised by, the state. In other words, the state has played aconsiderable role in determining the way in which religious groups – includingreligiously-affiliated schools – can both effectively and legitimately participate in public life. For example, for many decades it has been considered normal that religion expresses itself in the educational sphere, especially if that religion iscommensurate with the dominant social values of Dutch society. In this respect,then, ‘pillarization’ – to put it provocatively – generated a semi-establishment of religion, in which not churches as such but affiliated religious groups – chieflyCatholic and Protestant – enjoyed special privileges while simultaneously beingchanneled to play a certain, carefully defined role in public life.This is not to say, of course, that church-state relations were invariablypredictable, that the churches were always in agreement with each other about the moral order (think of the conflicting position of the episcopal ‘Mandement’ of 1954 and its rebuttal by the Dutch Reformed Church a year later), or that members of the political establishment always agreed with each other about theimportance of religion in public life – some were outrightly skeptical or hostile toan extensive public role for religion. But the ‘pillarized religious regime’ (VanRooden 1996) normalized church-state relations and gave them a stabilizing andpredictable character.The point here is not that the semi-establishment of religion is a bad arrangement per se, or that this extensive involvement of the state with religious expression inpublic life in general, or in religious education in particular, is an illegitimate useof state power in a modern Western democracy. As we have noted before, the geloven in het publieke domein 340  state cannot retreat to a neutral position even if everyone desired it to be neutral.The point, then, is to make visible the ways the Dutch state has defined andsustained religion in public life, in particular religiously-inspired education. With this foregrounded, it becomes clear how this extensive state influence onreligion’s public role, historically so strong, is now in something of a crisisprecisely because  its influence is weakening. In other words, the state has less of agrip on the public expression of religious life than it did in the recent past, and theeffect of this loss of grip is part of the crisis in public confidence. Contrary to thegeneral tenor of current discussions, the actual question confronting the Dutchstate today is not whether or not to reduce its support of religion and religiousinstitutions. It is about if and how the state can reassert its supervisory role overreligion’s public role in the face of the increasing independence and diversifica-tion of Dutch religious life. Why do the Dutch feel compelled to revisit this issue? In recent years, the state’scompelling interest in regulating religion’s public role, and above all its publicability to do so, has eroded in the face of substantial social change. The weaken-ing of traditional religious institutions and affiliations has weakened the veryfabric of the Dutch ‘societal state,’ and in this sense the decline of traditional reli-gion – and the rich set of networks it generated – has generated a serious problemfor the political system, undermining its representative character and, accordingto some, the quality of its representatives. This situation in part stems from thefact that the ‘secularization’ of Dutch society in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s didnot bring an end to the religious settlement; rather, the institutions that had beenpart of the old ‘religious regime’ made their identities more ‘inclusive,’ therebyensuring that the old networks that regulated church-state relations remainedlargely in place. But the relatively stable church-state relationship at the top wasnevertheless undermined by the falling away of religious support at the base,rendering problematic the representative character of many (nominally) religiousschools in particular and religious institutions in general. Moreover, the growthof non-denominational, non-confessional forms of belief, religiousconsumerism, and interest in New Age and non-Western religious traditionshave transformed the Netherlands from a setting consisting of relatively few,clearly defined religious communities, each with its own distinct confessionalcontent and way of life, into a much more fluid and undefined one (Groot 2006).Church-state relations in the United States, by way of contrast, have seldom beenas institutionally defined as in the Netherlands, in part because American religionhas itself been less institutionally stable, in part because churches and religiousorganizations constituted less of the ‘substance’ of American state and localgovernment, and in part because religion has been required to develop within aliberal market-based system rather than parallel to or protected from it. Thechurch-state relationship may or may not be changing now with the rise of theReligious Right. But the American state and society has for a long time accom-modated itself to the dynamism of religious change. It is not, by contrast, evident that Dutch society, used to the old relationship between religious communities 341 religious pluralism and the dutch state: reflections on the future of article 23
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