Freedom of education, equality, and heavy criticism: Minister of Education appears to back homophobic school policy
By Adriana Dancu
On Monday, November 9, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education and Media Arie Slob (CDA- a member party of the current Dutch cabinet) stated that, because of the Article 23 to the Dutch Constitution, which lays down the freedom of education, schools are allowed to ask parents to sign a school admission document that disapproves of homosexuality. At the same time, schools are obliged to ensure a safe learning environment for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, the Minister said during a parliamentary debate.
The comments provoked immediate outrage, with Slob’s approach branded as out of step with both Dutch law and the times. Slob’s suggestion that schools are free to discriminate against LGBTQI+ students, as long as they provide a safe learning environment is seemingly contradictory, and has no legal backing.
Article 23 of the Dutch constitution establishes freedom of education, and Dutch schools are free to formulate their own curriculum. The basis of the constitution, however, is Article 1 that states that everybody is equal regardless of gender, religion, race, or political affiliation. Therefore, schools cannot legally use sexual orientation as a means to discriminate against people, as this violates Article 1. They also cannot provide a safe learning environment if they discriminate, nor can they treat every student equally. D66 (another party participating in the current Dutch cabinet), had a similar opinion, and tweeted that “we don’t discriminate based on sexuality. Freedom of education does not mean freedom to discriminate.”
What affect could this have on schools? Dutch schools are free to decide what they teach students, however, that proved to be an issue on multiple occasions, as PvdA (an opposition party) leader Lodewijk Asscher said that his party is working on an amendment to Article 23, that will lay out the right to equal opportunities. This attempt wants to put an end to the skepticism the government has had for a long time regarding Dutch school curriculums, and whether they are in accordance with Dutch laws.
Backlash from all over
Arie Slob’s controversial statement has backfired, as he has received a lot of criticism from across Dutch society. COC (a Dutch LGBTQI+ advocacy group) chairman Astrid Oosenbrug stated that “it is unacceptable for schools to propagate rejection of people for their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or gender characteristics,” arguing that schools should actually support LGBTQI+ students.
Likewise, Claudia de Breij (a Dutch actor and presenter) addressed Slob’s statement by saying that “when you are disapproved of who you are, by definition, you no longer feel safe,” mentioning to her own high-school experience and support received from teachers when she came out.
MPs did not shy away from condemning Slob’s statement either. The VVD (the party led by Dutch PM Mark Rutte) said that “you must be able to be yourself safely. Especially in school,” and that statements like Slob’s make life of LGBTI+ “more difficult than it already is.” Paul van Meenen, from D66 stated that “everyone is entitled to their own values, but not to their own laws.”
Slob was also attacked by citizens on social media as well, as people used the hashtag #ARIESLOB_OUT to express their disapproval of Slob’s statement.
In an attempt to save his reputation, the Minister tried to take back his words, saying that indeed, schools that require parents signing a charter disapprove of homosexuality is “crossing the line.”? Even though the government has little to say in what schools teach students, supporting discriminatory behavior only enforces and encourages discrimination.
One thing is certain, both officials and ordinary citizens do not endorse Arie Slob’s argument, and want to make sure homophobia will not be used as a tool to deny LGBTQI+ students the right to a safe learning environment.
Image via Pixabay