The municipal council of Lier, a city in the Antwerp Province of Belgium, approved a ban on wearing religious symbols for counter personnel. After Vlaams Belang retracted their proposal for a total headscarf-ban for city personnel, the party approved a toned-down proposal together with Open Vld, CD&V and Lijst Dedecker. The vote caused serious discord within the Lier majority since coalition partner sp.a-Spirit was absolutely against it. The approval of the disputed proposal caused angry reactions by the countless immigrants who followed the meeting.
Lier is the second most important city in the province, after Antwerp, not to tolerate a headscarf for counter personnel. Just as in Antwerp, the vote caused much commotion. The debate was conducted by the Lier council in a serene manner, but after the vote the calm disappeared and it became very noisy.
The decision can have far reaching effects for the current majority in Lier. Since Vlaams Belang became the largest party after the latest municipal elections, the other parties had to form a monster coalition of socialists, liberals and Christian-democrats.
Vlaams Belang fraction chairman Morterlman had started off on the issue. He asked in the municipal council for a general ban on religious, political or philosophical symbols for Lier city personnel. Open Vld launched a counter proposal saying that only employees with direct contact with citizens, such as counter services, should keep their neutrality at all times by not wearing visible symbols.
The party of mayor and Flemish parliament president Marleen Vanderpoorten (Vld) received support from coalition partner CD&V and Lijst Dedecker. Sp.a/Spirit, which in Lier goes by the name Lier Leeft, did not like the proposal's attitude. The progressive cartel thought it was an attack on loyalty within the coalition and strongly apposed the so-called headscarf ban. Spirit leaders protested in front of the Lier municipality and within a short time got together 900 signatures on a petition against the ban.
Open Vld's proposal was accepted by a large majority. 23 councillors voted for it, 8 against. For this reason Vlaams Belang had retracted their proposal, supposedly because the extreme-right fraction sensed that it went too far to get a majority. An advise bureau will now be checking up by several municipal councillors on what is the precise definition of counter workers.
The city has one employee who wears a headscarf, Belgian-Moroccan Karima Adouir, who works for the city's integration department. She says she feels Vlaams Belang is personally attacking her. Vlaams Belang had hinted earlier that it has nothing to do with Adouir. Since she is not considered a 'counter' worker, she may continue wearing her headscarf.
At the same time, the municipal council also approved a diversity plan for city personnel, which will encourage ex-prisoners, HIV patients and immigrants to work for the city.
Vlaams Belang was extremely happy with their success in this vote, which follows similar bans in Antwerp, Ninove, Lokeren and Ghent. They have already announced they will propose more such bans in other Flemish cities.
Sources: HLN, Volkskrant (Dutch)
See also: Brussels: Veil forbidden, Antwerp: Protest against veil ban