No more crosses in church interiors

In three weeks, the Dutch will elect a new parliament. In The Hague, the country's third-largest city, the mayor has now decided: church premises are no longer permitted as polling places. The churches react with incomprehension.

The Hague, the seat of government and parliament, will also be celebrating the 12th anniversary of its founding. September, a Wednesday, voted. But unlike previous votes, voting in churches is no longer possible. The mayor of The Hague has in fact ordered that church and ideologically oriented premises – with one exception – be removed from the list of polling stations for the parliamentary election.

According to a spokesman of the city, this concerns 21 buildings. The list shows a total of 230 places where voting can take place: Most are schools, sports centers, community centers, neighborhood meeting places and libraries, but there are also hotels, department stores, supermarkets, even the central station and a beach pavilion on the list.

Mayor Jozias van Aartsen of the right-wing liberal party VVD deviates with this directive from the widespread practice in other municipalities and cities in the Netherlands. In Rotterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht, voting is still possible in church buildings between 7:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Even in largely secular Amsterdam, churches serve on 12. September church rooms as polling stations. Voters can cast their ballots at the Salvation Army headquarters, for example, but also in some Protestant churches and Roman Catholic churches, as well as in converted sacred buildings.

Eduard Windhorst, sexton of the Noorderkerk, finds this quite natural. For rooms of the in the 17. The church, which was built in the 16th century, is rented out for a wide variety of occasions and events. Amsterdamers can also vote at the Krasnpolsky Hotel and the legendary Melkweg cultural temple. The Association of Dutch Municipalities considers The Hague's action to be an isolated case.

Surprised churches
The churches in The Hague react with incomprehension to the mayor's directive, about which municipal employees informed the sextons. The decision of the head of the city to remove churches from the list of polling stations came as a great surprise to him, says IJjo Akkerman, chairman of the church council of the Protestant congregation of The Hague, on the Internet portal "kerkenindenhaag.nl". The mayor demonstrates that he is out of touch with an important part of society.

Akkermann points out that the churches make an essential contribution to coexistence, both in terms of values and social cohesion. Previous mayors were still well aware that there was a soul in a society and a district, the church council president says.

Not only church people see behind the Hague initiative, from which only the evangelically oriented chapel "The Good Shepherd" is excluded, efforts for a strict divorce of state and church. He was tired of the continuing attack on religion, the Reformed theologian Maarten Wisse wrote in his appeal to the "despisers of religion", which was published in the influential daily newspaper "NRC Handelsblad". Rising health costs, extremism and fragile social cohesion can be better managed if politics leaves more room for religion. When it comes to the rebuilding of city quarters, people only think about "bread and games" and no longer consider including a church or a mosque in the plans.

Wisse, who also teaches at the University of Tubingen, accuses politicians of trying to combat extremist tendencies by confining religious communities to the private sphere. Thereby since the 16. It has been proven in the twentieth century: Religion promoted by the state is "moderate religion". And the daily newspaper "Trouw" went one step further. She feels that the mayor's decision reminds her of the hostility to religion in the former GDR.

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