Concerns about legal freedom for Christian schools in Norway and the Netherlands

26-04-2022

Northern Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

Photo Unsplash

Freedom of education is coming under increasing pressure because of new legislation on non-discrimination. This is the conclusion of two legal scholars in Norway and the Netherlands, independently of each other.

"To directly discriminate against someone due to sexual orientation must be justified in a way that very concretely shows that this is necessary for a position", says Vibeke Blaker Strand to the Norwegian newspaper Dagen. The professor of law at the University of Oslo was one of the contributors last Thursday during the seminar "Freedom of religion for whom?" at the Center for Interdisciplinary Gender Research at the same university.

According to the current Norwegian legislation, which also came about because of European regulations, "both teaching aids and the content of teaching in schools must be based on the Equality and Discrimination Act", Blaker says. She believes there is "a strengthening of the protection against discrimination in teaching situations". She considers this to be a potential that has not yet been clarified.

Marriage

The professor also points out that "the legislation further penetrates the activities of religious schools than it did before." She considers that "all schools must familiarize themselves with this new situation in order not to violate these rules. Failure to do so could potentially lead to breaking the law."

Blaker says that Christian schools still have a legal basis for teaching, e.g., that marriage between one man and one woman is the God-given framework for sexual intercourse. But the school must also ensure that "all students" are "respected". The professor says that a school should not portray "certain forms of sexual orientation as unnatural or illegitimate".

Loyalty cannot be expected from all employees to the same extent at this point, Blaker thinks. "From a legal point of view, such a requirement must be justified by the work tasks linked to the individual post or by the context in which the work tasks are carried out, and the school must show that the requirement imposed is of decisive importance for the exercise of the work or profession."

Citizenship

The debate on the freedom of education is one with only 'minuses'. Nobody wins. A minority loses rights, and a majority loses tolerance and respect for minorities. This was the conclusion that Prof. Renée van Schoonhoven reached last Saturday during the annual meeting of the Association for Reformed School Education in the Netherlands, Dutch newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad writes. The Professor of Education Law at VU University Amsterdam pointed out that article 23 of the Dutch Constitution on education freedom is under increasing pressure.

According to the professor, the legislator increasingly brushes the right to freedom of education away. She says this is the case, for example, with the stricter obligation on teaching lessons on citizenship – which is not based on the school's foundation but on the fundamental democratic values of freedom, equality and solidarity.

The professor sees a possibility in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to stand up for education freedom. Van Schoonhoven: "The ECHR treaty once contained an appendix in which the right to education was formulated. It also stipulates that parents are entitled to respect for their religion or belief in their children's education."

Van Schoonhoven thinks the ECHR article may be of importance, among other things, if disputes arise between schools and the Dutch government about religiously related educational content.

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