Netherlands: Muslim teacher cleared over refusal to shake hands

A Dutch commission ruled that a Muslim high school teacher should not be sacked for refusing to shake hands with men.

The nonbinding decision by the Equal Treatment Commission was the latest test of ill-defined rules of conduct for ethnic and religious minorities in schools and in public service.

As in previous cases, the commission favoured religious rights, despite complaints from many native Dutch who say immigrants are slow to integrate.

While the commission said the teacher was within her rights, it made no explicit recommendation to the school to reinstate her.

She was suspended in September from a vocational high school in Utrecht, 40 km east of Amsterdam, after she returned from the summer holidays and announced her decision that shaking hands with men violated Muslim modesty.

“While offering a hand is probably the most usual manner of greeting, there are other ways,” said the ruling.

Bart Engbers, the director of the Vader Rijn College who suspended the teacher, said he was consulting with colleagues and had no immediate reaction.

Earlier, Engbers said he viewed the handshake as a normal sign of participating in Dutch society, and that his task as a school principal is to prepare his students to live and work in the Netherlands. Eighty per cent of the 700 students come from Moroccan or Turkish backgrounds.

Engbers said he has no problem with women wearing headscarves in class, however.

“We judge on a per-case basis to what extent an employer has attempted to balance the duty to ensure a discrimination-free workplace, and leaving room for the expression of faith by employees,” said committee chairman Alex Geert Castermans.

The decision said it was the third time the commission has considered complaints about women refusing to shake hands for religious reasons.

“It’s possible that for certain functions or training it’s necessary to shake hands. Just as in the other cases, the commission rules that necessity wasn’t shown.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday November 9, 2006.
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