SGP Required to Allow Women in Leadership Positions
Last week, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the Political Reformed Party (SGP) must allow women to participate in leadership positions. The SGP, a conservative Calvinist party, has long held the belief that men and women serve different roles in society and, as a result, women should not be able to participate in politics. On Friday, however, the Supreme Court ruled that these restrictions violate the 1979 U.N. Treaty for the Rights of Women.
From The Associated Press:
The SGP, which says it draws its inspiration from the Bible, has argued that restricting leadership roles to men is justified by religious freedom.
“The constitutional right to freedom of religion does indeed give the party the right to express its opinions,” said Judge Detmer Beukenhorst, reading a summary of the court’s ruling in The Hague.
“But in a democratic country, political ideals and programs can only be carried out within the boundaries set by laws.”
The ruling said the party’s policies are in conflict with the 1979 U.N. Treaty for the Rights of Women and it instructed the Dutch government to take unspecified measures to force the SGP to change.
The Court’s ruling makes an important point — freedom of religion permits individuals the right to believe what they wish, and it also allows people the right to express their beliefs publicly. It does not, however, provide people with a free pass to violate national and international law. While members of the SGP are entitled to believe and practice their beliefs freely (even if those beliefs are anti-feminist), the party itself should not be allowed to practice those beliefs in a way that contradicts the law.
The SGP responded to the ruling by issuing a list of its candidates for the June elections, and they’re all men. Either they are testing the judge’s authority or they’re just playing dumb (or maybe there is no “playing” involved). In support of the latter theory, the party released a statement calling the ruling “incomprehensible,” because past court decisions have defended the party’s right to discriminate based on religious principles.
In fact, past Court decisions have prevented the SGP from discriminating against women. Several years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the party must allow women to join as members, and though they initially criticized the ruling, women can now be members of the SGP, should they choose to do so. Perhaps as the upcoming weeks and months pass, the party will become more open to the idea of following this new ruling.
Either way, others in the Netherlands argue that no woman in her right mind would be interested in entering politics representing the SGP’s platform, and regardless, it will be impossible for the government to enforce the new ruling:
Arie Slob, of the orthodox Christian party ChristenUnie, which does allow women to be active in politics, said the state cannot force a political party to follow its instructions.’Every Christian woman who wants to get involved in politics can do that in this country,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘Which woman is the state going to force to join the SGP list.’
Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court has yet to overturn the SGP’s ban on voting rights for women. So while legally, the SGP must allow women to be members and serve in leadership positions, they are not required to let women vote in those (or any) elections. Perhaps we will see that change in the coming years as well.
What are your thoughts on the limits of religious freedom? Should religious political parties be allowed to express their beliefs in ways that violate the law?