Head Case

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Head Case

An interesting item from the Dutch news:

A 32-year-old Amsterdam Muslim is challenging the decision by an Islamic school not to employ her because she refuses to wear a headscarf.


The headmaster of the Islamic College in Amsterdam said the school's statutes state explicitly that the rules of the Koran and the Sunna must be adhered to.

Non-Muslim teachers can be granted an exemption. "If Miss Haddad was to declare she is not a Muslim then she could, in principle, could come and work with us," a member of the school board said.

In principle. I'm on the school's side. People have a right to believe what they choose, and it shouldn't be up to the government to prohibit a group of people from running a school in keeping with their religious beliefs.

There is a complication, though, and that is that schools here are almost all publicly funded. That includes sectarian schools. The system is complicated, and I don't understand it very well, but in some respects it resembles the kind of voucher system that U.S. conservatives tend to support. The problem here is that once the government is paying the bills, it tends to want the schools to comply with important government policies--such as non-discrimination on religious grounds.

When we think about the separation of church and state, we tend to think about government not supporting religious institutions. But another facet of that concept is avoiding what the Supreme Court has called government "entanglement" with religion. I'd suggest that's a principle whose value is becoming apparent to the Islamic College in Amsterdam.

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