Religious bigots challenged by court

Searchlight, November 2005

A court in The Hague decided, on 7 September, that a right-wing Calvinist political party, the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, (SGP) should no longer be entitled to funding from the Dutch state. According to the court, the SGP discriminates against women and is in violation of the UN Treaty of Women's Rights.

The decision came after the Clara Wichmann Foundation and seven other women's rights organisations demanded in court that the SGP should end its policy of not allowing women to be full members of the party.

The SGP is one of the Dutch oldest political parties, having been established in 1918 out of fear that women might be given the right to vote in the Netherlands. In its original programme, the SGP said "Women's voting rights contradict the destiny of the women" and even today nothing is said in the programme about women's right to be member of the party because it is taken for granted that they will not be members.

The party, whose ideology follows a strict interpretation of the Bible, wants to establish a theocracy in The Netherlands. Its founding father, G.H. Kersten, wrote in the 1920s, that "The goal of woman's life, her duty, her calling, is at home. We honour this kind of woman to the word of God. We despise a woman who withdraws from her house".

Kersten later had to quit the party because of his collaborationist behaviour during the Second World War when, in 1941, he allowed the SGP's magazine to be published under another name and to be run by a member of the Nazi puppet Nationaal Socialistische Beweging.

In 1984, the party released a pamphlet in which it acknowledged women's right to vote as long as they recognised male superiority. Despite this studied backwardness, pressure grew on the party at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s to allow women to become members. The admission of a group of women into a local branch in 1988 set off a chain of rulings and counter-rulings aimed at clarifying this relaxation of the rules.

In 1993, the party chairman said that he had no objection to women's membership only to find his position rejected by a party conference. The following year, thirty women lodged a legal complaint against the party for discrimination but the public prosecutor opted not to take action. Perhaps as a result of this, in 1995 a court in The Hague sided with the SGP against a woman who challenged her dismissal from the party.

Nevertheless, the SGP was clearly mindful of the possibility of court cases and decided, in 1996, to change the rules of this extraordinary party to allow women to be "extraordinary members" and allow them to speak in meetings but still to exclude them from decision-making. In 2001, a female SGP member took her objections to this state of affairs to the Commission for Equality but the case fell. Two years ago, a survey of young SGP members found that 70% had no objections to female membership of the party.

Almost unbelievably, however, this neanderthal group of bigots has held seats in the 150-seat Dutch Parliament since1922, representing the so-called "Bible-belt" of the Netherlands, an area that lies partly in Zeeland, Zuid-Holland, Gelderland and Overijssel and where the SGP has a relatively strong and steady electoral potential.

At present, the SGP has two parliamentary seats in parliament, two in the Dutch Senate and shares one with Christen Unie in the European parliament. The European fraction of the SGP is part of the Independence and Democracy group, that is made up of 33 members of tthe racist League of Polish Families, the racist and separatist Lega Nord from Italy, the right-wing populist United Kingdom Independence Party and right-wing Eurosceptic parties from Denmark and Sweden. At local level, it holds four mayoralties and has 35 aldermen.

SGP voters are characterised by their strong resentment at Dutch society, which they consider sinful. Last year, the Reformatorisch Dagblad, a daily paper closely linked to the SGP, asked aloud, the day after the Tsunami in South Asia, why God's rage hit Asia, instead of The Netherlands: "Is Holland, is Europe, not as godless as South East Asia?". In Calvinist families, there is no television, books are only read if they are from the church library and, at Calvinistic schools, evolution and sex education are not taught.

According to the 27,000-strong SGP, the state and the church have independent responsibilities, but cannot be seen as inseparable. When, for example, two years ago a discussion about the reinstatement of the death penalty took place in parliament, the SGP was, Bible in the hand, in favour.

Hardly surprising for a party that rages endlessly about the decline of such "traditional values" and institutions as the family and church, the lack of public decency, liberal sexual morality, feminism, the right on abortion, childcare and working women.

Fortunately, the SGP has never been in government though, in 2003, they did come close when the Christian Democrat/Liberal government fell as a result of a rift over the populist List Pim Fortuyn. The Liberals, however, did not want the SGP in the coalition in the end because of its fundamentalist anti-women stance.

Now, at last, in 2005, a court in The Hague has asked the internal affairs ministry to suspend the party's annual grant of 1.1 million euro as long as it continues to discriminate against women. According to the court, the Dutch government has to meet its obligations under international anti-discrimination regulations. According to the court sexual equality must prevail over freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

In response, internal affairs minister Johan Remkes has filed an appeal against the decision because the state wants to remain neutral on this touchy issue. Meanwhile, the SGP's youth wing which has 12,000 members has urged the party to re-examine its views before it alienates even more people.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! and Antifa-Net in Utrecht