On 29 November, the People and the cantons will vote on the popular initiative “Against the construction of minarets”. A ban on the construction of minarets would be clearly contradictory to the basic values of our state and to the fundamental principles and rights contained in our Federal Constitution, stressed the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP), Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. Freedom of religion protected not only personal religious convictions, but also the public avowal of one’s faith. This included the construction of religious buildings.
A ban on the construction of minarets would restrict freedom of religion in a discriminatory manner, as only Muslims in Switzerland would be affected. All other religious communities, on the other hand, would still be able to construct their buildings, added Federal Councillor Widmer-Schlumpf. A ban on the construction of minarets would also be in breach of fundamental human rights conventions that are binding on Switzerland. It would create new problems, without solving any existing problems.
Achievements should not be foolishly jeopardised
“We demand that Muslims in Switzerland respect our legal system and social order in full”, said the FDJP head. No one could call on religious rules to justify a disregard for state obligations or prohibitions. “If we ask this of Muslim people, then we have to treat them in the same way with regard to freedom of religion as all other inhabitants of our country and we should not discriminate against them in the practice of their religion,” she added. This was the core principle of freedom of religion, which was what made religious peace in Switzerland possible. We could not afford to foolishly jeopardise this achievement, emphasised Federal Councillor Widmer-Schlumpf.
The vast majority of the Muslim population in Switzerland accepted our legal system and social order without reservation, Federal Councillor Widmer-Schlumpf pointed out. The Confederation and cantons had the instruments to take effective action against fundamentalist extremists. The Federal Act on Measures to Safeguard Internal Security enabled the Confederation to recognise the dangers at an early stage. And the authorities could refuse entry to or expel foreign nationals who refused to accept our legal system or social order. In contrast, a ban on the construction of minarets would do nothing to counter religious fanaticism, but could actually give a boost to religious fanatics.
A proven allocation of responsibilities
Minarets could not be built everywhere, but had to satisfy planning law requirements, not to mention cantonal and communal building regulations, Neuchatel Cantonal Councillor Jean Studer explained. Due to their proximity to the issue, the cantonal and communal authorities were best able to implement appropriate solutions in relation to the construction of minarets that were adapted to local conditions. There was no cogent reason to depart from this tried and tested allocation of responsibilities.
The Neuchatel Cantonal Councillor pointed out that social cohesion in Switzerland was based on three principles that had been established over the centuries: political stability, peaceful industrial relations and religious peace. He warned against endangering the third principle by rejecting a specific religious group.
A new challenge
Cultural and religious diversity was part of Switzerland’s identity, Pastor Thomas Wipf, Chairman of the Swiss Council of Religion reminded the conference. The rules for peaceful coexistence had been worked out over long period of time. The integration of the Islamic community into Swiss society was a new challenge. But history showed us that Switzerland was familiar with such challenges, said Wipf, and it had always emerged from such experiences a stronger nation.
The popular initiative “Against the construction of minarets” showed that there are uncertainties and fears among the public that had to be taken seriously. What message would be preached in the mosques? How important from an Islamic point of view was democracy, the rule of law, and equal rights for men and women? Pastor Wipf called for an open debate on these issues. He regarded the popular initiative as counterproductive, as it prevented rather than encouraged a dialogue.
Last modification 15.10.2009