The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience, and the federal penal code prohibits any form of debasement of or discrimination against any religion or religious adherents.
The law penalizes with up to three years imprisonment or a fine anyone who incites racial hatred or discrimination, including anyone who “refuses to provide a service because of someone’s race, ethnicity, or religion,” or who “denies, justifies or plays down genocide or other crimes against humanity.”
There is no official state church; the constitution delegates religious matters to the cantons. Most of the 26 cantons, with the exception of Geneva and Neuchatel, 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 pay the church tax may have to leave the church formally. In some cantons, private companies are required to pay a 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 not eligible to receive money from the church tax.
The law states there are no special requirements for any religious group to register with the government to receive tax-exempt status. Applications are routinely granted.
Religious groups of foreign origin are free to proselytize, but regulations set specific standards for foreign missionaries to enter the country. Immigration and labor laws impose tighter employment restrictions on non-European Union (EU) nationals. 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 a job; that he/she has formally completed theological training; and that he/she will be financially supported by the host organization. To obtain a work permit, the applicant must have sufficient knowledge of, respect for, and understanding of Swiss customs and culture; be conversant in 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 it will not tolerate abuse by members. If an applicant is unable to meet these requirements, the government may deny the residency and work permits.
According to the courts, missionaries of certain denominations, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), do not meet these requirements. Mormon missionaries from non-EU countries are ineligible for religious visas because they do not possess a theology degree. Mormon missionaries from EU countries are allowed to work in the country.
The government may also refuse residency and work permits if a background check reveals an individual has ties to religious groups deemed “radicalized” or has engaged in “hate preaching.” Immigration authorities may refuse residency permits to clerics considered “fundamentalists” by the government, if the authorities deem internal security or public order is at risk.
The law requires mandatory training for immigrant clerics regardless of religious affiliation in order to facilitate their integration into society. Among other provisions, the training program aims to ensure 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 in the canton of Lucerne offer religious classes in Islamic doctrine. 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. Children from minority religious groups are free to attend classes for their own religious group 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 either complement or replace traditional classes in Christian doctrines with non-confessional teachings about religion and culture. There are no national guidelines for waivers on religious grounds from classes other than religious instruction, and practices vary.
The construction of minarets is banned. The ban does not apply to the four existing mosques with minarets. New mosques may be built without minarets.
A federal law prevents local ritual slaughter for kosher and halal meat; however, importation of such meat is legal and it is available.
Fifteen municipalities provide land for Muslim burials, including Geneva, Basel-Liestal, Zurich, Bern, Thun, Lugano, Lucerne, Biel, Chaux-de-Fonds, and Winterthur.
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Human Security Division includes the Task Force for Dealing with the Past, responsible for developing a government strategy to prevent atrocity and genocide. The task force also addresses religious conflict issues.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.