Many secondary ‘Free’ schools (mostly Roman Catholic) and Community (GO!) schools in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium have measures in place that ban religious symbols or the wearing of head-cover.
The result is a ban on the wearing of turban, patka, hijáb, yarmulk etc. Most primary schools either do not have this type of restrictions or do not implement them.
From the 1st of September of this year the GO! Schools are banning religious symbols from all primary and secondary schools under its jurisdiction.
The Sikh community in Belgium joined a front of 25 organisations formed by BOEH! (boss on your own head) and ‘Justice and Democracy’ to act against this blatant discrimination.
We will petition the Raad van State (Council of State) asking it to declare the ban unconstitutional and against the freedom of religion. Some previous rulings by this body give some hope. But we have learned from experience that going the legal way in this country is often costly and ineffective.
In this case we had not much choice as GO! seems no longer interested in dialogue. Because the BOEH! lawyers are very familiar with the subject and can use previous formats in this case, they decided to charge us 4000 Euro only. Although the Raad van State is slow and unpredictable we decided to take the chance.
The Sikhs have collected 1360 Euro so far, with 200 more promised. We are financially supported by two organisations that help the minorities, which means that the Sikhs only have to collect 1500 Euro. We have also two promises to finance any shortfall.
Why are the people in the Dutch (Nederlands) speaking part of Belgium so afraid of the religious symbols of minority religions ? As the northern Dutch speaking Belgians were themselves a discriminated group in the past you would hope that they would have sympathy for other minority groups.
The nationalist NVA party, which might get up to 40% of the vote in the 2014 elections in the Dutch (Nederlands) speaking region, indulges in negative rhetoric both about French speaking Belgians and about immigrants and descendents of immigrants.
The key-problem in this country is that there is no robust anti-discrimination legislation like we have in the UK. This combined with islamophobia and xenophobia leads to escape clauses like the ‘neutrality’ principle which allows companies and organisations to discriminate the wearers of religious symbols.
The message to the religious minorities is that we have to integrate, but also that we are not really welcome. This does not mean that all Belgians have this negative attitude, but those that do seem to have public opinion with them and other parties lack the courage to oppose the NVA.