The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
The constitution provides for freedom of creed and conscience, and the federal penal code prohibits any form of debasement of or discrimination against any religion or religious adherents.
The law penalizes public incitement to racial hatred or discrimination, spreading racist ideology, and denying crimes against humanity. In the past there have been convictions under this legislation for anti-Semitism and historical revisionism, including Holocaust denial.
The government Federal Service for Combating Racism continued to support antiracism activities with funding from the regular federal budget. During the year, the Federal Service for Combating Racism made 900,000 Swiss francs ($970,760) available and funded 61 projects. Projects included the creation of a history lesson sequence for schools on anti-Semitism during the 20th century, art shows, and academic research. It also financed special sensitization workshops for the military police.
The country is engaged in a total revision of its integration program, a process the Federal Office of Migration started in 2010. During the year, the federal government held consultations with the cantons on policy formulation. On November 23, the Federal Council released the first draft of an Integration Guideline in which responsibilities of each canton are outlined to provide improved assistance to religious minorities and better protection against racism and discrimination based on religious belief.
There is no official state church; cantons handle religious matters according to the constitution. Most of the 26 cantons (with the exception of Geneva and Neuchatel, where church and state are separate) financially support at least one of the three traditional religious communities--Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Protestant--with funds collected through a church tax. Each canton observes its own regulations regarding the relationship between church and state. In some cantons the church tax is voluntary, while in others an individual who chooses not to contribute to the church tax may have to leave the church formally. In some cantons private companies are unable to avoid payment of the church tax. Some cantons also allow the church tax to be collected on behalf of the Jewish community. Islamic and other nontraditional religious groups are excluded from these benefits.
Religious organizations may register with the government to receive tax-exempt status.
Although groups of foreign origin are free to proselytize, the government has implemented new regulations that restrict this right. Foreign missionaries must obtain a “religious worker” visa to work in the country. Visa requirements include proof that the foreigner does not displace a citizen from doing the job and has formally completed theological training, and that the host organization will financially support the visa holder. To obtain a work permit the applicant must have sufficient knowledge of, respect for, and understanding of Swiss customs and culture; understand at least one of the three main national languages; and hold a degree in theology. The host organization must also acknowledge the country’s legal order and pledge that it will not tolerate abuse by members. If an applicant is unable to meet these requirements, the government may deny the residency and work permit. According to the courts, missionaries of certain denominations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not meet these provisions, primarily the requirement of a theology degree. The government has imposed quotas limiting the entry of religious workers of these denominations for 2010 and 2011 and informed church officials that it will not admit any religious workers belonging to these denominations effective 2012. The government may further refuse residency and work permits if a background check reveals that the individual has ties to questionable (radicalized) religious groups/institutions or has formerly engaged in hate preaching. Immigration authorities may refuse residency permits to imams considered “fundamentalists” by the government. The Federal Law on Foreigners requires mandatory training for immigrant clerics in order to facilitate their integration into society. Among other provisions, the training program aims to ensure that immigrant clerics can speak at least one of the three main national languages.
Education policy is set at the cantonal level, but municipal school authorities have some discretion in its implementation. Most public cantonal schools offer religious education, with the exception of schools in Geneva and Neuchatel. Public schools normally offer classes in Catholic and Protestant doctrines; a few schools provide instruction on other religious groups in the country. Two municipalities offer religious classes in Islamic doctrine in the canton of Lucerne. In some cantons religious classes are voluntary, while in others they form part of the mandatory curriculum; however, waivers are routinely granted for children whose parents request them. Those of different religious groups are free to attend classes for their own creeds during the class period. Parents may also send their children to private religious schools and to classes offered by religious groups, or they may homeschool their children.
A number of cantons have reformed religious education in public schools to either complement or entirely supplant traditional classes in Christian doctrines with nonconfessional teachings about religion and culture. There are no national guidelines for waivers on religious grounds from classes other than confessional instruction, and practices vary. A new federal law affirms that no child can be excluded from swimming lessons for religious reasons. According to the law, swimming lessons are part of the curriculum and therefore mandatory for every pupil. The only grounds for exemption are health issues.
The construction of minarets is banned. This ban has no effect on the four existing minarets or on the building of or worshipping in mosques. Following a November visit to the country, an OSCE assessment team concluded that discrimination against Muslims was increasing. The team noted that refugees from Albania and Bosnia were largely targeted, and the most evident cases of religious discrimination occurred during naturalization proceedings and in the workplace. The OSCE recommended the establishment of an umbrella organization for Muslims to represent their interests.
The Federal Act on Animal Protection prevents local ritual slaughter for kosher and halal meat; however, importation of such meat remains legal and available.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whit Sunday, Whit Monday, Christmas Day, and St. Stephen’s Day. Sunday is a public holiday; shops remain closed, and Sunday work is generally not allowed unless a special permit is given, usually reserved for hospitals, service industries, and essential occupations.