A Dutch court has backed the suspension of a Muslim man’s benefits over his refusal on religious grounds to shave his beard while on training for a job.
The unnamed man had been offered a job as an asbestos removal officer but was subsequently told he would need to be clean shaven in order to undergo the training course. When he refused on the basis of his religious convictions, Amersfoort city council suspended payments to both him and his wife for a month under the Participatiewet, which provides a minimum income for every legal resident in the Netherlands.
The man appealed the decision at the court of central Netherlands, where he claimed that the removal of his benefits was an infringement of article nine of the European convention on human rights which protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The council argued that there was a danger of asbestos particles ending up in the man’s beard, which is harmful to his health. They added that his facial hair would also impact on the effectiveness of the respiratory mask he would need to wear.
In the summing up the judges took into account the lack of any prospect of other employment given the man’s history including time in jail, psychological problems and a gambling addiction.
“The provision offered … did not involve any internship or training, but was provided with a job guarantee”, the court said. “For the appellant, the training was therefore an excellent, concrete chance for regular work …Due to the refusal to participate in the training, the appellant did not make use of the guaranteed opportunity to gain access to the labour market. As a result, he put undue pressure on the public funds to the detriment of those who, in solidarity, bear the costs of the provisions in the Participatiewet.”
The judges ruled that the suspension of payments was “deemed necessary in the interest of the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.