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Switzerland


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I.  Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 19,870 square miles (41,284 square kilometers) and its population is an estimated 7.21 million. 

Approximately 95 percent of the population traditionally have been split evenly between Protestant churches and the Catholic Church.  Since the 1980's, there has been a trend of persons, primarily Protestants, formally renouncing their church membership.  According to the 1990 census, the percentage of the total population not belonging to a religious group has risen to 7 percent, up from 4 percent 10 years earlier.  Membership in religious denominations is as follows: 46 percent Roman Catholic, 40 percent Protestant, 2 percent Muslim, 1 percent Orthodox, and 1 percent unknown/undecided.  Other denominations account for trace percentages of less than one percent.  There are 58,500 persons belonging to other Christian groups, 29,175 belonging to new religious movements, 17,577 Jews, and 11, 748 Old Catholics.

Muslims have grown to at least 200,000 persons, fueled by the influx of Yugoslav refugees in recent years.  Muslims practice their religion throughout the country.  Although only two mosques exist--in Zurich and Geneva--there have been no reports of difficulties in Muslims buying or renting space to worship.  Although occasional complaints arise, such as a Muslim employee not being given time to pray during the workday, attitudes generally are tolerant toward Muslims, who constitute the country's largest non-Christian minority.

Section II.  Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.  The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Religious liberty is protected by Article 15 of the Constitution, which grants freedom of creed and conscience, and by Article 261bis in the Federal Criminal Code, which prohibits any form of discrimination or debasement of any religion or of any religious adherents.

In a June 10, 2001 referendum, voters approved by a two-thirds majority the deletion of a requirement that the Federal Government expressly consent to the establishment of any new Catholic diocese in the country.  The requirement, originally designed to preserve religious peace among the country's religious communities, was imposed in 1874 following the unsuccessful attempt of Pope Pius IX to establish a Catholic diocese in the reformist (Protestant) city of Geneva a year earlier.  Since the article no longer served its original purpose and, in fact, discriminated against the Catholic Church, the Federal Government called on the electorate to abolish it.

There is no official state church.  However, all of the cantons financially support at least one of the three traditional denominations--Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Protestant--with funds collected through taxation.  Each of the 26 states (cantons) has its own regulations regarding the relationship between church and state.  In all cantons an individual may choose not to contribute to church taxes.  However, in some cantons private companies are unable to avoid payment of the church tax.  A religious organization must register with the Government in order to receive tax-exempt status.  There have been no reports of a nontraditional religious group applying for the "church taxation" status that the traditional three denominations enjoy.

Groups of foreign origin are free to proselytize.  Groups such as Young Life, Youth for Christ, the Church of Scientology, Youth With a Mission, the Salvation Army, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Islamic Call are active in the country.  Experts estimate that between 300 to 800 denominations and groups are established throughout the country.

Foreign missionaries must obtain a "religious worker" visa to work in the country.  Requirements include proof that the foreigner would not displace a citizen from doing the job, that the foreigner would be financially supported by the host organization, and that the country of origin of religious workers also grants visas to Swiss religious workers.  Youth "interns" may qualify for special visas as well.

Religion is taught in public schools.  The doctrine presented depends on which religion predominates in the particular state.   However, those of different faiths are free to attend classes for their own creeds during the class period.  Atheists are not required to attend the classes.  Parents also may send their children to private schools or teach their children at home.

In response to the issue of Holocaust era assets, the Government and private sector initiated a series of measures designed to shed light on the past, provide assistance to Holocaust victims, and address claims to dormant accounts in Swiss banks.  These measures include:  The Independent Commission of Experts under Professor Jean-Francois Bergier, charged with examining the country's wartime history and its role as a financial center;

the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons under Paul Volcker, charged with resolving the issue of dormant World War II era accounts in Swiss banks; and the Swiss Special Fund for Needy Holocaust Victims, which received approximately $190 million (273 million Swiss francs) in contributions from the private sector and the Swiss National bank.  A $1.25 billion settlement of the class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. against Swiss banks was announced in August 1998, completed in January 1999, and formally approved on July 26, 2000.

The debate over the country's World War II record contributed to the problem of anti-Semitism (see Section III).  The Federal Council took action to address the problem of anti-Semitism.  In December 1999, the Council reiterated a statement of regret first made in 1997 over the country's failures to assist minorities fleeing the Nazi regime.  In December 1999, the Federal Council (Cabinet) announced the creation of a Center for Tolerance in Bern.  Planning for the center under the chairmanship of a former parliamentarian is continuing, and financing will come from the public and private sectors.  The Center plans to produce curricula material to address the roots of racism, provide exhibits designed to teach historical lessons, offer academic research opportunities, and host international symposia.

The Government does not initiate interfaith activities.

Of the country's 16 largest political parties, only three--the Evangelical People's Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Christian Social Party--subscribe to a religious philosophy.  There have been no reports of individuals being excluded from a political party because of their religious beliefs.  Some groups have organized their own parties, such as the Transcendental Meditation Maharishi's Party of Nature and the Argentinean Guru's Humanistic Party.  However, none of these have gained enough of a following to win political representation.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Due to increasing concern over certain groups, the Government in 1997 asked an advisory commission to examine the Church of Scientology.  The commission's 1998 report concluded that there was no basis for special monitoring of the Church, since it did not represent any direct or immediate threat to the security of the country.  However, the report stated that the Church had characteristics of a totalitarian organization and had its own intelligence network.  The commission also warned of the significant financial burden imposed on Church of Scientology members and recommended reexamining the issue at a later date.  In December 2000, the Federal Department of Police published a follow-up report, which concluded that the activities of such groups, including Scientology, had not significantly altered since the first report and that their special monitoring was thus not justified.

In 1998 the city of Basel passed a law banning aggressive tactics for handing out flyers.  This action was prompted by complaints about Scientologists' methods.  In June 1999, the Church of Scientology suffered a setback when it failed in the country's highest court to overturn a municipal law that barred persons from being approached on the street by those using "deceptive or dishonest methods."  The Court ruled that a 1998 Basel law, prompted by efforts to curb Scientology, involved an intervention in religious freedom but did not infringe on it.

The city of Buchs, St. Gallen, also has passed a law modeled on the Basel law.  However, it is still legal to proselytize in nonintrusive ways, such as through public speaking on the street or by going door-to-door in neighborhoods.

In June 1995 in Zurich, Scientologists appealed a city decision that prohibited them from distributing flyers on public property.  In a qualified victory for the Scientologists, a higher court decided in September 1999 that the Scientologists' activities were commercial and not religious, and that the city should grant them and other commercial enterprises such as fast food restaurants more freedom to distribute flyers on a permit basis.  Fearing a heavy administrative and enforcement workload, the city appealed to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court rejected the appeal in June 2000, reinforcing the decision by the previous court that the Scientologists' activities were commercial in nature.  The Supreme Court decision is expected to establish a nationwide legal guideline on the issue.

In Winterthur city, authorities require Scientologists to apply for an annual permit to sell their books on public streets.  The permit limits their activities to certain areas and certain days.  This practice has been in effect since 1995 when a district court upheld fines issued to Scientologists by the city for accosting passersby to invite them onto their premises to sell them books and conduct personality tests.  The court ruled that the Scientologists' activities were primarily commercial, rather than religious, which required them to get an annual permit for the book sale on public property and prohibited them from distributing flyers or other advertising material.  The Supreme Court ruling in the Zurich case is expected to set a precedent for this case as well.

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the Canton of Geneva's legal prohibition of a Muslim primary school teacher from wearing a headscarf in the classroom.  In its verdict handed down on February 15, 2001, the Court ruled that the Geneva regulations do not violate the articles on religious freedom and nondiscrimination of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Court found that the legal provisions did not discriminate against the religious convictions of the complainant, but were meant to protect the rights of other subjects as well as the public order.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III.  Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

In the context of discussions over Nazi gold and Holocaust era assets, anti-Semitic slurs reportedly still remain a problem, although there was no marked increase over the previous year. Government officials, including the President, have spoken frequently and publicly against anti-Semitism.  According to the 2000 Swiss National Security Report, between 1995--when the antiracism law was enacted--and December 2000, 149 cases were brought to court under the antiracism law, with 68 convictions.  Of those, 19 persons were convicted for anti-Semitism, 15 for revisionism (i.e., denying, doubting, or qualifying the Holocaust), 31 for racist oral or written slurs, and 3 for other reasons.

In November 1998, the Federal Commission Against Racism released a report on anti-Semitism expressing concern that the recent controversy over the country's role during World War II had to some extent contributed to increased expressions of latent

anti-Semitism.  At the same time, the Commission described the emergence of strong public opposition to anti-Semitism and credited the Federal Council with taking a "decisive stand" against anti-Semitism.  The Commission also proposed various public and private measures to combat anti-Semitism and encourage greater tolerance and understanding.

In response the Federal Council committed itself to intensify efforts to combat anti-Semitic sentiment and racism.  The Federal Council welcomed the publicly funded Bergier Commission report in December 1999 that disclosed the country's World War II record on turning away certain refugees fleeing from Nazi oppression, including Jewish applicants.  The Federal Council described the publication of the Bergier Report as an occasion for reflection and discussion of the country's World War II history.  The Federal Council took action to address the problem of anti-Semitism (see Section II).

In March 2000, a Geneva research group released a survey in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee in New York, stating that anti-Semitic views are held by 16 percent of citizens.  Other prominent survey firms, as well as some Jewish leaders, disputed the accuracy of the Geneva firm's survey, stating that the survey overestimated the prevalence of anti-Semitic views.  According to the survey, 33 percent of Swiss People's Party (SVP) supporters voiced anti-Semitic views.  However, the survey found that 92 percent of all Swiss youth rejected anti-Semitic notions.  The survey reflected some inconsistencies.  For example, during the recent period of controversy over the country's World War II record, public opinion in support of the country's antiracism laws actually strengthened.

Many nongovernmental organizations coordinate interfaith events throughout the country.

Section IV.  U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.  The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with both Government officials and representatives of the various faiths.



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