The veil will not be banned in Zurich schools

Zurich cantonal authorities have decided not to ban the wearing of veils in schools. The cantonal parliament rejected by 104 votes to 65 a motion put forward by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which wanted to ban the veil in places of education “in order to makes Swiss values respected in schools”. The motion had also wanted to do away with a special exemption for Muslims from swimming lessons during Ramadan.

Among those who rejected the motion on Monday, the centre-right Radicals said the current cantonal recommendations were “absolutely sufficient”, while the Green Liberals called the motion highly “intolerant”. Last year, the Swiss People’s Party, currently the largest party in Switzerland, championed an initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland.

Switzerland debates Islam and minarets

The debate over the integration of the Muslim community into Swiss society is not new and has long been the subject of considerable political tension. The most recent controversy is no different and has already fuelled a heated discussion on whether the construction of minarets in Switzerland should be banned. The Democratic Union of the Centre (UDC, also known as the Swiss People’s Party), a major Swiss political party and forerunner of Swiss conservatism, first initiated the debate. The UDC quickly gathered the requisite 100,000 signatures necessary for a national referendum scheduled for the fall of 2009. It is worthwhile to note that Switzerland has only four minarets throughout the country even though Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity. The UDC is actively mobilizing public opinion against what it labels the “Islamization” of Switzerland, claiming that the percentage of Muslims – 5 percent – has grown too rapidly since the 1980s. But people have been speaking out against this view. Several experts and political leaders have questioned the legality and compliance of the referendum initiative with the Swiss Constitution and the European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR). According to them, the insertion in the Constitution of an article prohibiting the building of new minarets would be tantamount to encroaching on other fundamental rights also guaranteed by the same federal Constitution, such as equality before the law (Article 8); freedom of belief and conscience (Article 15); guarantee of property ownership (Article 26); the principle of proportionality (Article 5); adherence to international law (Article 5); and prohibition of discrimination (Article 8). Mir Cengic reports.

Swiss reject SVP citizenship plan

In a referendum Swiss voters have voted by 64 percent to reject a proposal by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that would have made it even harder for resident foreigners to gain citizenship. Only one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the plan. At present, naturalisation is decided by a commission, usually at regional level. The far-right had wanted to overturn a supreme court ruling so that applications could be decided by popular vote among local communities. More than a fifth of Switzerland’s 7.5 million residents are of foreign origin. To gain citizenship candidates must have lived in the alpine state for 12 years and pass tests on Swiss culture and language. The SVP’s campaign was challenged by Switzerland’s left parties, trade unions and Greens who described it as racist.

Switzerland: Ministers attack minarets campaign

Three members of Switzerland’s seven-strong cabinet have publicly condemned a campaign by rightwingers to ban the construction of minarets On Monday Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who also holds the rotating Swiss presidency, told journalists in Geneva that such an initiative “could put Swiss interests and Swiss citizens in danger”. Her comments came a day after Defence Minister Samuel Schmid said the campaign was going down the “wrong road”. Then on Wednesday it was the turn of Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin to come out against the proposal, saying that a confrontation between people of different faiths had to be avoided. Their public statements against a public initiative at such an early stage is an unusual move. Their caution is attributed to anticipation of backlash in light of the Denmark cartoon controversy and the popularity of the minaret issue in the upcoming election. Though Schmid belongs to the same rightwing Swiss People’s Party as some who back the initiative, it’s believed that he feels the initiative has gone too far.