Netherlands Court Ruled Against Muslim Refusing to Shave for Work Safety

The man was offered a job removing asbestos and would be unable to wear the required mask.

The Court of Central Netherlands has given its legal support to the Amersfoort city council’s decision to suspend the benefits of a Muslim man who refused to shave his beard during his job-related training, citing religious grounds. The council has suspended monies to the man and his wife for a period of one month. This falls under the Dutch Government scheme ‘Participatiewet’ which guarantees a minimum income to every Dutch resident.

The Muslim man, whose name is being kept anonymous for legal purposes, was provided a job asbestos removal. He was told it was required for him to shave as part of the job and he would be inducted in the training course only if he shaved his beard. The man refused to do so on the ground of religious convictions. He then appealed the decision of the council to the Court of Central Netherlands. In his appeal, he claimed taking away his benefits infringes article nine of the European convention on human rights. The article in question protects all rights to religion, conscience, and freedom of thought.

The council gave the counter-argument that there was a real danger of harmful asbestos particles being stuck in the appellant’s beard. Exposure to asbestos has been linked with lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Respiratory masks must be worn at all times in this position. The lawyers for the council said the existence of facial hair would impact the effectiveness of the mask. The lawyers also informed the court that the man was unemployed for about two years, and this training would automatically give him a job. The payment was suspended as the council must act in the taxpayer's interests.

The Muslim man responded saying he had no objection in wearing any alternative respiratory mask which is suitable for bearded individuals. The court, however, disagreed, stating the training required the wearing of a particular mask. The appeal board set by the court ruled that although the decision made by the council clearly infringes on a person’s religious freedom rights, this can be tolerated if there exists a legal basis and the society needs it. The judges, in their summary, also considered the man's bleak employment prospects and his personal history involving a stint in jail, gambling addiction, and psychological problems.

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