Wednesday, 18 July 2018

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To love mercy in the midst of a legal fight

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UPDATE: No freedom of religion for social assistance recipients (May 25, 2018)

In October of 2017 it became known that this ministry was under investigation by the municipality of Dordrecht, The Netherlands. The reason for this investigation was to determine if two of the board members had a legal right for social security, and if they didn’t had another income from the ministry as well. These board members were the founder – mr. R.B.J. Prijs – and his wife. However, instead of just determining if there was an additional income, this turned into a full scale investigation, leaving a lot of questions with the board of this ministry. In this article we want to fill you in on what’s going on, alternated with personal quotes from Mr. Prijs.

"As founder of this ministry, I am also a member of the board. So is my wife. Although we were very active for the ministry, we have never been on the payroll. For that the ministry doesn’t have sufficient funds and that is fine with us. Due to unfortunate medical circumstances, my wife hasn’t been able to work in the last few years, making me the sole provider. When I lost my fulltime job in 2014, I was able to quickly find another job, were it not that it was not a fulltime job (yet). In The Netherlands the family income can be supplemented from social security, to the level of a social minimum. Since my job wasn’t fulltime, I had to apply for that social security for additional income."

The fact that these board members became partially depended on social security apparently meant that the municipality could overrule all existing laws in The Netherlands, based on the general administrative law. This law basically makes all the rights of natural and legal persons inoperative (in particular, the constitution and the civil code), giving the civil servants unlimited power, mainly because this general administrative law is so extremely vague on where their limits are. 

“I am fully aware of the fact that many people abuse these systems, while illegally profiting from other sources of income as well. Therefore I am not opposing their duty to control and verify all personal transactions and actions. On the contrary, I believe this is a necessity to prevent abuse and fraud on these areas.”

Abuse of authority

As stated before, these civil servants went much further then to just do their duty to control and verify the personal financial transactions of these board members. Instead of just doing the job they are supposed to do, they also started to request the entire bookkeeping, all the invoices, the annual overviews and all bank statements of the ministry. In addition they also requested all the personal and contact information of all the people involved, being all the financial donors, everyone who every bought something from the ministry and everyone who ever attended one of our events. With that request also came the comment that they wanted to contact these people as well.

“When I became aware of these intensions, it was my opinion that that was one bridge too far and an abuse of authority. In any normal situation they would have to check our personal finances, to verify if we (personally) had any gain from the ministry. We’re fine with that, but we couldn’t see how all the other requested information was relevant in any way, since it doesn’t tell anything about our personal income.”

In response to these requests, the board pointed out that the ministry could not just hand over the requested personal details, without a legal cause, as is stated in the civil code. On top of that there is also a new European privacy law that prohibits the sharing of privacy details, without a clear legal cause. However, a clear legal cause was never presented. Eventually the board saw no other option then to comply and offered all the requested documents and information.

Legal right to be heard

In any western civilization, there is such a thing as “the right to be heard”. This basically means that the government tries to communicate, asks questions about unclarities and offers the accused party the opportunity to respond and/or to clear up any unclarities. In this case that never happened, which is a violation of this same general administrative law and an (illegal) strategy that they apply to more of their victims.

“I found and find it very remarkable that a government can do assumptions, without any concrete evidence, and that they can base an entire case on that, without ever granting the opportunity to be heard. They simply refuse to hear us, to ask questions or to talk at all. To me that is unthinkable in a time like this and in a western civilization, but yet it happens.”

What seems to be the problem?

One day before the first court hearing, the court has send a copy of the files of the municipality to the lawyer of mr. Prijs. The emphasize seemed to be on the fact that the ministry had activities, such as events, publications and an anointing oil shop. Even though these activities were all done by volunteers, and even though the income from these activities was used for the ministry itself, everything was suddenly labeled as a personal income. Without any form of proper investigation, without evidence and without any form of hearing. They did mention to have a problem with the fact that mr. Prijs was standing on a stage, sharing the Word of God. As if that wasn’t enough, they also promised to continue with their actions, as long as mr. Prijs and his wife remained to be a part of the ministry.

“During the last hearing the judge wondered when it would be enough and what else I had to show them before they would be satisfied. They simply replied that they didn’t know. I can’t escape the impression that in some way I apparently have surrendered my constitutional rights, at the moment I became partially depended on social security. No one ever mentioned it, but the fact that I’m sharing the Word of God is now being used against me in court. From the very beginning I have always wanted to provide for my own income, I’ve been available for work, I’ve never used the ministry as an excuse not to work, I’ve participated in every project they wanted to involve me in, and this is the end result.”

The consequences

When it comes to the consequences, there is only one word to describe it with: devastation. Given the fact that the anointing oil shop seemed to be one of the issues, the board saw itself forced to get rid of it. Some volunteers have offered to separately continue that part of our ministry, an offer that was gladly received. Because of the loss of this web shop, which provided the ministry with some additional income for its activities, and because of all the costs in regard to this whole case, the ministry has suffered a loss of several thousands of euro’s.

On a personal level, mr. Prijs and his wife have suffered the biggest losses. Their social security was withdrawn. On top of that mr. Prijs had some serious health issues as well, because of which his employer demanded that he would take a sick leave. To cut a long story short, during that time his contract ended, leaving them with no income at all. This is the situation they are in for almost five months now, resulting in the fact that one of these days they will be evicted from their home.

"What this does to us personally can hardly be described in words. We feel crushed, broken and devastated. This all seems to be so extremely unfair, but we’re called to honor and obey our government, so that’s what we will do. We’re called to forgive, love and bless those who hurt and curse us, so that’s what we will do. Not because it’s easy, for it is far from easy to do that at this moment. It is a decision of our will, in order to obey God’s Word. Even though God seems to be completely silent in this season. Even though our enemies seems to have the upper hand. Even though there seems to be no way out. We know nothing. We don’t know what God will do next. We don’t know if this will ever end. We just know that we need to rise above these circumstances, in order to obey the Word of God, no matter what the cost. To forgive, to love and to bless. Other than that, we really don’t know what else to say or to do."

Until this point there have been two summary hearings, in which both judges based their entire judgment upon the general administrative law, in favor of the municipality of Dordrecht. In the ruling on both cases, the judges choose to completely ignore the evidence that was present, the lack of proper investigation and the violation of the municipality’s legal duty to hear the accused party. These court cases are not over yet, but every short term solutions are consumed. Since there have only been two summary hearings, the actual court cases are still scheduled and the rulings are not final yet. However, the court cases will not serve anytime sooner then at least a half year from now.

UPDATE: No freedom of religion for social assistance recipients (May 25, 2018)

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