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Answers to questions from members Esmah Lahlah and Glimina Chakor to the Minister of Justice and Security and the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations about banning headscarves and other religious expressions on boas makes the discussion topical again.

The discussion surrounding the ban on religious expressions, such as headscarves, among special investigating officers (boas) is flaring up again in the Netherlands. Minister of Justice and Security Dilan Yesilgöz and Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Hanke Bruins Slot responded to questions from GroenLinks-PvdA members Lahlah and Chakor about the proposal for a national ban. This topic has led to discussions with the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) and an extensive analysis of the current state of affairs.

Yesilgöz wants go ahead with the national ban and consulted with the VNG about this in the Strategic Safety Consultation on February 26, 2024. The VNG is not opposed to a neutral uniform for boas, but emphasizes that individual municipalities can make their own choices in this regard. This has led to the possibility that some municipalities deviate from the model uniform and provide space for religious expressions. According to the VNG, it remains important to continue discussing this subject.

Municipalities, as employers, are currently authorized to impose a ban on visible religious expressions on boas in their employ. This authority also applies to other employers of boas, such as transport services. In 2021, Yesilgöz drew up a guideline to ensure neutrality of the boa uniform, but this provides room for deviating decisions by employers. Since November 2023, some municipalities have used this space to allow boas to wear religious expressions.

The national ban is not aimed at municipalities or other boa employers, but directly at the boas themselves. This raises questions about municipal autonomy and the Inter-administrative Relations Code (IBV Code). Article 3 of the IBV Code states that consultation must take place about new policy intentions that affect other levels of government, so that they can still be adjusted. Although consultations have taken place, this has not led to compliance with the guideline by all municipalities. Yesilgöz therefore feels compelled to enforce neutrality through legislation or regulations, as the House has requested.

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Dilan Yesilgoz
Photo: © Pitane Blue - Dilan Yesilgöz

A legal basis is necessary for such a ban. In the coming period, we will investigate how this basis can best be implemented. The usual legislative process will be followed, including advice from the Council of State. This advice will also include the relationship with fundamental rights and municipal autonomy.

The discussion about the ban raises the question of how many boas in the Netherlands actually carry religious expressions. To date, there are no known cases of boas wearing religious expressions with their uniforms. The unions have also not received any reports of such cases. Nevertheless, Yesilgöz considers it necessary to ensure a uniform appearance of neutrality and authority.

Critics of the ban, including members Lahlah and Chakor, wonder why efforts are being made to solve a problem that barely exists. Yesilgöz defends her position by emphasizing that neutrality is essential for investigating officers in their task performance and contact with the public. She states that visible religious expressions can detract from the image of authority and safety of the position. This applies to all boas, regardless of their specific working environment.

The ministers have indicated that consultation on this subject will continue, with the aim of arriving at a solution that does justice to both the neutrality of the boas and the wishes of the various municipalities. This complex issue touches on fundamental values ​​such as freedom of religion, government neutrality and the autonomy of local governments. The coming months will be crucial in the further development and implementation of the policy.

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