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Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of faith and conscience, and it and the penal code prohibit discrimination against any religion or its members. The constitution delegates regulation of the relationship between the government and religious groups to the 26 cantons. In November, the Federal Council, a seven-member executive committee, approved a national referendum to be held in March 2021 on a proposed antiterrorism law that includes a nationwide ban on face-covering headgear in public spaces. This followed the rejection by parliament’s lower house, the National Council, of the draft law in June. UN human rights special rapporteurs criticized the draft law, warning it could restrict freedom of religion if movement restrictions to deter terrorism would deny Muslim women access to religious sites. In July, the Federal Office of Police announced the federal government will pay 500,000 Swiss francs ($568,000) to 11 religious institutions that serve minorities as defined by their way of life, culture, religion, tradition, language, or sexual orientation to assist in their protection. In February, the St. Gallen Cantonal Council approved a new article in the cantonal law prohibiting extremist events that are “not compatible with the basic democratic and constitutional order and which significantly impair the population’s sense of security.” Media directly linked the ban to a desire to prevent a recurrence of a 2016 concert attended by neo-Nazis from Germany and other countries.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) and a nongovernmental organization (NGO) cited 523 anti-Semitic incidents in the German-speaking part of the country in 2019 – a decrease from 577 in 2018 – of which 499 involved online hate speech. Another NGO reported 114 anti-Semitic incidents in the French-speaking region in 2019 – compared with 111 in 2018 – of which 102 involved online hate speech. A report prepared by an NGO in collaboration with the Federal Commission against Racism cited 44 incidents against Muslims in 2019, consisting primarily of derogatory remarks and marginalizing treatment, compared with 44 in 2018. In July, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences published a study of 500 Jews in the country which found that one in two respondents had experienced anti-Semitic harassment in recent years. The most common form of harassment was offensive or threatening comments.

U.S. embassy officials discussed projects, such as training events and workshops, aimed at promoting religious freedom and tolerance with federal and cantonal government officials. In July, embassy staff toured the prayer and communal spaces of the seven religious groups housed in the multifaith House of Religions and spoke on religious freedom and tolerance at a meeting there with the head of Bern’s mosque. In February, embassy staff met with Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss the promotion of religious freedom and tolerance. In January, the embassy cohosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. In remarks, the Ambassador underscored the importance of religious freedom.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future