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Accommodating religious claims in the Dutch workplace: Unacknowledged Sabbaths, objecting marriage registrars and pressured faith-based organizations

By Floris Vermeulen and Rabia El Morabet Belhaj


This article analyses religious claims in the workplace arising from tensions related to religious diversity in the Netherlands. On the basis of interviews with leaders in the religious, political and public sectors, we look at the perception of such tensions and discuss the feasibility of accommodating them. Our study distinguishes between the individual cluster (private and public sectors) and the collective cluster. In the former our respondents argue that individual religious employees in the private sector are not under pressure; rather, there is strong support for these individuals to act in accordance with their religious beliefs. When it concerns public employment, however, religious civil servants do seem to be under pressure in the Netherlands; secular respondents argue that civil servants are part of the state apparatus and therefore have no right to make direct or indirect distinctions on the basis of their personal beliefs. In the collective cluster, we found that associational freedoms for religious organizations and faith-based organizations have also come under secularist pressure; non-discrimination is often invoked as the supreme principle, trumping associational autonomy. These observations suggest a shift in the Dutch tradition of governing religious diversity and portend its significant impact on the position of religious employees in the Netherlands.


Dutch equal treatment commission, faith-based organizations, the Netherlands, reasonable accommodation, religious civil servants, secularism

Publication details

International Journal of Discrimination and the Law (2013), 13 (2-3), 113-139. doi: 10.1177/1358229113489395

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