Inclusive Neutrality in the Classroom

Yearbook of the European Association for Education Law and Policy, 2011

Erasmus Working Paper Series on Jurisprudence and Socio-Legal Studies, No. 11-01

13 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2011

See all articles by Wibren van der Burg

Wibren van der Burg

Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam; Queen Mary University of London, School of Law

Date Written: August 10, 2011


Both in law and in political philosophy, the idea of a neutral state is an important principle. It is rarely noticed, however, that there are important differences in how the principle is interpreted in each of the two disciplines. I argue that legal doctrines on neutrality can be clarified and improved with the help of philosophical insights (and vice versa). I make three interrelated points, first about the domain of application of neutrality, second about the various versions of neutrality and finally about the implications for public education. First, state neutrality should be broadly interpreted to refer not only to religion and belief, but to views of the good life, which also includes culture- and identity-connected lifestyles. Second, there are two basic versions of state neutrality: inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive neutrality can be subdivided into proportional and compensatory neutrality. Third, there are good reasons why, in general, public education should be inclusive. Public education should only be based on exclusive neutrality for issues where inclusive neutrality is not possible, for example with regard to religious symbols in the classroom. The Dutch ideal of active pluralism for public education should be interpreted broadly, including religion, belief, cultural diversity and diversity with regard to sexual orientation. It is a public duty as well as a right of children to be educated in light of this broad interpretation of neutrality; the ideal of active pluralism should be guiding in education about different religions, cultures and life styles in a neutral way. This ideal also holds for publicly funded private schools.

Keywords: neutrality, inclusive neutrality, freedom of religion, non-discrimination, laïcité, church-state relations, religious symbols, education, Toledo guidelines, active pluralism, private schools

Suggested Citation

van der Burg, Wibren, Inclusive Neutrality in the Classroom (August 10, 2011). Yearbook of the European Association for Education Law and Policy, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Wibren Van der Burg (Contact Author)

Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam ( email )

Section Sociology, Theory and Methodology
PO Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam


Queen Mary University of London, School of Law ( email )

Mile End Road
London, E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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