The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office. In August the government released draft religious freedom laws whose stated aim was to make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. Some religious groups criticized the legislation as inadequate for not explicitly recognizing a positive right to freedom of religion, and for providing inadequate protections for religious groups engaging in commercial activities, such as retirement villages or youth camps. Some civil society groups said the draft legislation would give too much weight to religious views and would weaken existing protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTI) people and those from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. The government responded with a second draft in December, and invited further public comment. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, which had two senators in the federal parliament, called for a travel ban for certain countries until a solution can be found to “first, second, and third generation migrants who violently reject Australia’s democratic values and institutions in the name of radical Islam” and for limits on some Islamic practices. The Catholic Church opposed state and territory laws requiring priests to report evidence of child abuse heard in confession.
In August a Muslim woman reported being assaulted while on public transportation in Melbourne, and in November another Muslim woman, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, was attacked by a man who reportedly yelled anti-Muslim hate speech. Two incidents of anti-Semitic bullying at Melbourne-area schools received widespread media attention during the year. Four incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in east Melbourne during the year, as well as similar vandalism in other cities. Unknown perpetrators painted anti-Muslim graffiti on the car of a Muslim family in Western Australia days after the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings.
The U.S. embassy and consulates general engaged government officials and a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups to promote religious freedom. This included well-publicized engagement with members of the country’s Uighur community, some of whom have reported harassment by the Chinese Communist Party in the country.
The constitution provides the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private. The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. At year’s end, there was one legal action in progress against religious instruction in schools. In March an armed man attacked two Christchurch mosques, killing 51 persons and injuring 49 others, all Muslims. The prime minister labeled the shooter a terrorist and immediately condemned the attacks, advocating religious tolerance and calling for solidarity with the country’s Muslim community. Immediately after the attacks, the government took a series of measures, including the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attacks and organization of public events to memorialize the victims. Following this attack on the Muslim community, in October the government announced 17 million New Zealand dollars ($11.5 million) in extra funding to combat terrorist and violent extremist content online, including content related to religion. In March parliament repealed a little-used but longstanding blasphemy law. In May the Ministry of Education released guidelines on religious instruction in public schools to help clarify the legal obligation of the schools’ boards of trustees when allowing religious instruction.
In the days following the mosque attacks, people from around the country condemned the violence and called for solidarity with the Muslim community. The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 87 inquiries or complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for 2018-19, compared with 65 in the previous period. The New Zealand Jewish Council said that anti-Semitism was increasing, particularly online.
The Ambassador, as well as U.S. embassy and consulate general officers, continued to meet with government officials and representatives of various religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society. In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Ambassador led the embassy’s engagement in a robust public outreach program, delivering messages of condolence and solidarity with the people of the country and condemnation of attacks on our “Muslim brothers and sisters.”
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 government and religious groups to the 26 cantons. A law in the canton of St. Gallen entered into force barring the wearing of facial concealments in public if deemed a threat to security or peace. A Federal Council decree to provide 500,000 Swiss francs ($518,000) annually to enhance protection of Jewish, Muslim, and other religious minority institutions went into effect in November. In February the state prosecutor in Schaffhausen Canton rejected a complaint against a cantonal police officer who fined a Muslim man for publicly saying “Allahu akbar” while greeting a friend in 2018. In February voters in Geneva Canton approved a law banning the wearing of visible religious symbols in the workplace by cantonal government officials, but a Geneva court exempted cantonal and communal parliamentarians. In March the Zurich High Court upheld a ruling that a Muslim father violated the law when he failed to send his sons to school rehearsals of a Christmas song. In February the same court upheld a lower court’s 2018 conviction of a man for shouting anti-Semitic epithets at an Orthodox Jew, but it reduced his prison sentence and ruled the man’s cry of “Heil Hitler!” did not constitute Nazi propaganda. A University of Fribourg study said politicians approached non-Christian religions, especially Islam, with caution and showed little political will to award minority religions privileges similar to those of Christian churches.
A nongovernmental organization (NGO) and a group of Jewish communities cited 577 anti-Semitic incidents in the German-speaking part of the country in 2018, of which 535 involved online hate speech. The 42 other incidents, which included one case in which a man threatened a group of Orthodox Jews with a knife and shouted anti-Semitic insults at them, compared with 39 such cases the groups recorded in 2017. Another NGO reported 174 anti-Semitic incidents in the French-speaking region in 2018, two of which it described as “grave,” including one assault of a Jewish man on a train, and four as “serious,” compared with 150 in 2017. A collaboration between an NGO and the Federal Commission Against Racism cited 44 incidents against Muslims in 2018 consisting primarily of derogatory remarks and marginalizing treatment, compared with 54 in 2017. In September a Muslim man reported that another man at a supermarket had questioned his wife about her headscarf and called her a “dirty Muslim.” Local media reported that two booksellers listed books with Nazi content in their online shops before removing them.
U.S. embassy officials discussed with the federal government its projects aimed at promoting religious freedom and tolerance, and with cantonal government officials cantonal recognition of minority religions, especially Islam. Embassy officials met with NGOs and religious leaders, eliciting their views on religious discrimination and government funding for security for religious institutions. The embassy hosted an iftar with discussion of religious tolerance and diversity and cohosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Embassy staff spoke on religious freedom and tolerance at an iftar organized by a group promoting religious dialogue. Embassy staff also convened a roundtable with representatives of multiple faiths during a visit of the U.S. Special Advisor for Religious Minorities.