On Monday, February the 6th of 2012, the Government offered a draft bill to ban face-covering clothing to the Dutch Parliament.   The advice from the Council of State, regarding this bill was made public as well that day.

The draft bill bans the wearing of face-covering clothing in public places, and other places that are accessible to the public, such as educational institutions and public transport. Face-covering clothing is accepted when worn for protection (e.g. for traffic, sports), or as part of certain festivities (e.g. Carnival), or when they are worn in places or buildings with a religious purpose  [1].

The Dutch Government chose to ignore the advice of the Council of State concerning the ban on face-covering clothing.  The Council of State, the advisory organ of the Government, heavily criticised the legislative proposal. First, the Council of State does not consider the complete ban as necessary and useful. Second, the Council of State is of the opinion that a ban on face covering clothing is an infringement of the freedom of religion. The Government should not interfere with the choice of women to wear a niqab or a burqa. The Council also stated that subjective feelings of insecurity constitute no solid argument in favor of a complete ban of face-covering clothing. It does not consider the other interests mentioned by the Government as valid reasons for a complete ban. There is no necessity and no urgent need and therefore no justification for the limitation of the freedom of religion. The Council mentions that specific legislative measures and competences already safeguard the interests defended by the Government [2].

According to Liesbeth Spies, the current Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, an exception to the infringement of freedom of religion is justifiable when it concerns the public order.

A motivation included in the bill of January 2012:

“The government has reaffirmed the decision to introduce a general ban on wearing clothing that covers the face in public. It believes that people need to be able to look each other in the eye and interact with recognizable faces. Open communication is vital in public places. Wearing clothing that covers the face is not appropriate in an open society like the Netherlands, where participation in social intercourse is crucial.”

The Netherlands is an open society; both men and women participate equally in social life. Wearing face-covering clothing is considered as hindering women’s social participation. According to the Government, the bill does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights  (article 9). The bill has been created in order to protect the public order, social intercourse and to safeguard public security [3].

The Netherlands is the third country in Europe to ban the wearing of a burqa in public places, after legislation to ban the burqa had been introduced in France and Belgium. However, The Netherlands was the first European country to demand a burqa ban. In the past few years three earlier proposals to ban face covering clothing were submitted to the Council of State for advice. However, these proposals did not lead to the creation of new legislation. The present draft bill to ban face covering clothing has not yet been approved by the Dutch Parliament but the Government stated that it plans to start with fining a violation of the ban in 2013 (a fine of up to 390 euros).

Footnotes

[1] See (loosely translated elements of) :  Samenvatting advies wetsvoorstel algemeen verbod gelaatsbedekkende kledingRaad van State.nl
[2] Ibid.
[3] As quoted from: Government approves ban on clothing that covers the face, Government.nl

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