State financing of religion should end, says Rutten

Summary

Open VLD’s president has brought up the issue of state funding of religious institutions again, following news that a Limburg mosque could lose its official recognition

‘Imprudent’ says church

Open VLD president Gwendolyn Rutten has called for an end to the state subsidy of religion. “The time is ripe to have this discussion,” she said. “All religions need to pay for themselves.”

The financing of religions – and also humanism – is written into the Belgian constitution, so a constitutional amendment would be required to change the situation. Rutten’s proposal at the weekend followed recent controversy surrounding the potential withdrawal of official recognition of the Fatih mosque in Beringen, Limburg (pictured). If that were to be withdrawn, the mosque would lose its government financing.

According to Rutten, subsidies for religions are often misrepresented: the Catholic church receives too much compared to the number of attendances, whereas there are more practising Muslims than the subsidy would suggest.

A spokesperson from the National Conference of Bishops described Rutten’s proposal as “a well-known standpoint” and said the idea continues to be “imprudent”. The proposal fails, the spokesperson said, to recognise the important social role of the church in matters such as charity, education and general welfare.

The same point was made by Sylvain Peeters, chair of the Union of Humanist Associations. “In theory I am in favour of a strict separation of church and state,” he said, “but if you extend this idea to education, care institutions and political parties, then you touch the whole of society.”

One exception to Rutten’s proposal would be church patrimony – the church buildings themselves, which she said form part of the tradition of supporting valuable historic heritage. The subsidising of church buildings could, she said, come under cultural policy.