Church schools can fire gay teachers

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Gay teachers can be dismissed by religious schools if it can be shown that their homosexuality clashes with the ethos of the institution. The Dutch Interior Minister, Guusje Ter Horst, made this statement in a letter to parliament attempting to clear up uncertainty on the highly controversial issue.

Up to now religious school boards faced legal proceedings if they expelled homosexual teachers.

The law was unclear as two constitutional rights clashed: freedom of education and freedom of sexual orientation.

In her letter, Minister Ter Horst says schools are entitled to demand that their staff adhere to the school's principles.

In the case of strict Christian schools, this means they are entitled to reject applicants or sack teachers if their sexual orientation conflicts with the school's Christian values.

Nevertheless the minister stresses that in general homosexuals cannot be sacked or refused employment purely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

This gets around the anti-discrimination Universal Equal Treatment Act (AWGB), which states that religious schools are not allowed to sack an employee because of the "single fact" of a homosexual nature or a homosexual relationship but can make a distinction on the grounds of "additional circumstances".

Last May, a Christian primary school in the Dutch town of Emst suspended a gay teacher on the grounds that his sexual orientation conflicted with the mission of the school. Religious schools in the Netherlands are state-funded in the same way as non-religious schools, based on the principle of freedom of education.

In June, the Council of State, the Netherlands highest advisory body, ruled that although schools are not allowed to discriminate, they can make specific demands of their staff.

The minister's letter is at odds with the Education Minister, Ronald Plasterk's view that schools have no right to dismiss teachers for being openly gay.

In her letter, Ms Ter Horst admits that existing laws are confusing, although there are no plans to change legislation on this matter.

She says her letter is intended to clarify matters.

What do you think? Should religious schools be given a wider margin to dismiss teachers on the basis of the sexual orientation?
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