To which extent is exclusion an acceptable political strategy in a liberal democracy? I pondered this question as I read about a Dutchman being forced to resign from his Christian school because of his relationship with another man. On the one hand there is the strategy of religious freedom, on the other hand a defining feature of a liberal democracy is the every citizen's equality before law. In one case I speak of strategy (religious freedom), while in the other case I speak of 'a defining feature', or a principle. Some might contend otherwise, asserting that religious freedom is a principle and equality is just a legal feature. However, in the particular case of the Netherlands, religious freedom - historically - is much more of a strategy than a principle.
Being a religiously divided country in the past, the political elite in the Netherlands devised religious freedom as a strategy to appease protestants, secularists and Catholics. By allowing each of the religious and ideological groups to have their own social organizations, newspapers, political parties and schools, a potentially explosive (perhaps Northern Irish) situation was avoided. While one should not deny the great merits of stability and peace, the strategy of religious freedom should not be confused with democracy. Individual freedom was severely restricted, if not by the state - by the social organizations a person was brought up with. Marriages across religious cleavages was frowned upon; even a reason for social exclusion. The aforementioned case of a gay teacher being forced to resign is typical contemporary case where religious freedom comes to the expense of a particular person's worthiness and dignity. However, religious freedom has changed from a strategy to contain and appease opposing societal forces - to a principle to make private moral judgments public.
One might ask if the Rotary can exclude people below a certain income threshold from membership, why can a school or a political party not be exclusive in their hiring and firing? There is certainly a good argument to be made. After all, political parties entertain ideologies which assume the exclusion of other-thinking people. However there are cases of the exclusion of the excluded and there are cases of the exclusion of the included. A case of exclusion of the already excluded is for instance when a socialist applies for membership of a liberal party. When his membership is denied, he is not more or less deprived than before. However when a member of the in-group is excluded, exclusion of the included, deprivation can be deep: lost of social relations, income, livelihood, personal belief... In such cases, the personal deprivation should be brought in the equation when considering exclusion versus someone's right to exert its personal freedom within a restricted social context. Moreover, the argument of religious freedom as a political strategy has become weaker, as inclusion or exclusion in this case does not serve societal appeasement as a goal. Religious cleavages are not featuring in Dutch society as they did in the first half of the 20th century. Of course, news coverage on Islamic extremism in Holland would suggest that religious cleavages are still apparent. Perhaps they are, but that doesn't necessarily result in appeasement through religious freedom as a political strategy. The social parameters are different, the Netherlands is no longer divided in three more or less equally sized religious and ideological groups, rather the Dutch discomfort with Islam or a small section of orthodox Christianity actually applies to a small minority groups. In some cases religious freedom as a strategy will even cause conflict, rather than appeasement. (Imagine allowing circumcision on young girls as a policy of religious freedom... I think that would anger large sections of the population, possibly even resulting in conflict.)
To bring this discussion to a (temporary) close, I'll make up a sum of the particular case of the gay Dutch teacher. In this case there is no reason to assume the teacher is not abiding by the school's rules (he probably had no relationship a time of appointment), he was part of the in-group, but now excluded. This has come at a great personal cost: lost of income and livelihood. The appeasement resulting from this decision to exclude is minimal. Perhaps, at the school some parents and teachers are for or against, but there's no reasonable threat of broader social conflict. At the personal level there is not any evidence that his functioning as a teacher is compromised by his private relation; to loose out on a teacher may even come at the direct expense of his students and the students' parents.
This is only one in many cases of exclusion of the included in the Netherlands. Therefore, it seems like religious freedom as a strategy should loose ground on a case by case basis to the merit of the respect of individual dignity and worthiness. exclusion,homosexuality,liberalism,religious freedom,Netherlands