International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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 15,941 square miles, and its population is an estimated 7.21 million.

Experts estimate that between 300 to 800 denominations and groups are established throughout the country. Approximately 95 percent of the population traditionally has 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 Federal Government's Office of Statistics, membership in religious denominations is as follows: approximately 44.1 percent Roman Catholic, 36.6 percent Protestant, 4.5 percent Muslim, 1.2 percent Orthodox, 1.9 percent other religions, and 11.7 percent no religion. There are an estimated 58,500 persons belonging to other Christian groups; 29,175 belonging to new religious movements; 17,577 Jews; and 11,748 Old Catholics.

Islamic organizations believe that the Muslim population has grown to 350,000 persons, due to the influx of Yugoslav refugees in the past several years. Muslims, who are the country's largest non-Christian minority, practice their religion throughout the country. Although only 2 mosques exist--in Zurich and Geneva--there are approximately 120 Islamic centers throughout the country.

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.

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 strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution grants freedom of creed and conscience and the Federal Criminal Code prohibits any form of debasement or discrimination of any religion or of any religious adherents.

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. Total church taxation revenues were $850 million (1.3 billion Swiss francs) in 1997.

Groups of foreign origin are free to proselytize. 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 supported financially 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 included: The Independent Commission of Experts under Professor Jean-Francois Bergier, which concluded on March 20, 2002, a 600 page report on 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; the Swiss Special Fund for Needy Holocaust Victims worth $180 million (288 million Swiss francs); and the Swiss Special Fund for Needy Holocaust Victims worth $180 million (288 million Swiss francs), financed by both the private sector and the Swiss National Bank, which was paid to 309,000 persons in 60 countries.

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. The Federal Department of the Interior has set up a Federal Service for the Combating of Racism to coordinate anti-racism activities of the Federal Administration with cantonal and communal authorities. This Federal Service, which began operating at the beginning of 2002, has a budget of 15 million Swiss francs to use over a 5-year period. Of this money, 500,000 Swiss francs per year was reserved for the establishment of new local consultation centers where victims of racial or religious discrimination may seek assistance. Approximately 130 of these consultation centers or contact points already exist in the country. In addition, the Federal Service for the Combating of Racism sponsors and manages a variety of projects to combat racism, including some projects specifically addressing the problem of anti-Semitism.

In 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 is expected to come from the public and private sectors. The Center, which plans to produce curricula material to address the roots of racism, provides exhibits designed to teach historical lessons, offer academic research opportunities, and host international symposia, held its first symposium, "Bern-Discussion for Tolerance" on November 11, 2001 in a hotel in Bern. Meanwhile the search for a permanent location for the planned center continues.

The Government does not initiate interfaith activities.

Of the country's 16 largest political parties, only 3--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

On December 19, 2001, the Vaud cantonal court rejected a claim by the Church of Scientology that Lausanne authorities had discriminated against them and prevented them from renting a restaurant and launching an advertising campaign. The court said that the Church of Scientology could not be considered as a "real church" because it "did not believe in God," and because its services had no religious connection. As a result, the court said that religious discrimination could not apply. The Church did not appeal the court decision.

Due to increasing concern over certain groups, in 1997 the Government had 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 altered significantly since the first report and that their special monitoring therefore was not justified. The Government no longer specially monitors the Church of Scientology.

In 1999 the Church of Scientology failed in the country's highest court to overturn a municipal law in Basel that barred persons from being approached on the street by those using "deceptive or dishonest methods." The Court ruled that the 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 1995 in Zurich, Scientologists appealed a city decision that prohibited them from distributing flyers on public property. In 1999 a higher court decided 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 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, the 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 primarily were 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's decision in that case is expected to be the national legal guideline on the issue.

In January 2002, the City of Zurich decided to establish a Muslim cemetery, ending a decade-long struggle of local Muslim organizations for a place to bury their members. The cemetery is expected to be ready by the end of 2002, adjacent to an existing public cemetery in a Zurich suburb. It offers space for a few hundred graves and meets Muslim religious requirements. Muslim congregations also may use the existing infrastructure of the cemetery to perform rituals. Muslim cemeteries already exist in Geneva, Bern, and Basel.

In February 2002, 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. 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.

On March 13, 2002, the Government backed down on its proposal to lift the ban on the ritual slaughter of animals after its draft bill met with strong opposition during public consultation. Ritual slaughter (the bleeding to death of animals that have not been stunned first) has been banned in the country since 1893. The Government proposed to lift the ban because it considered it to be an infringement on the freedom of religious minorities; however, the proposal provoked a wave of opposition from animal rights and consumer groups, veterinary surgeons, and farmers arguing that the practice inflicted undue suffering on animals. The Government took its decision to maintain the ban in the interest of religious peace after consulting with Jewish organizations. The Government announced that new legislation would be drafted to allow explicitly the import of kosher and halal meat, which already generally is readily available at comparable prices.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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 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.

According to the 2001 Swiss National Security Report, as of December 2001, there had been 183 cases brought to court under the 1995 antiracism law, with 83 convictions. Of those, 43 were convicted for racist oral or written slurs, 19 persons for anti-Semitism, 17 for revisionism, and 4 for other reasons.

In June 2001, a visiting Israeli Orthodox rabbi was shot and killed in Zurich. Although the circumstances of the event stimulated speculation that it may have been a hate crime, police were unable to uncover any evidence about the perpetrator or his motives.

On May 22, 2002, a Vevey district court sentenced three revisionists--Gaston-Armand Amaudruz, Philippe Greorges Brennenstuhl and Rene-Louis Berclaz--to prison terms of 3 and, in Berclaz's case, 8 months for racial discrimination. All men were found guilty of writing and distributing two books that outlined their revisionist and anti-Semitic views to the general public. Only Brennenstuhl was present at the court ruling. He declined to answer the court's questions and built his case on the constitutional right to free speech.

In 1998 the Federal Commission Against Racism released a report on anti-Semitism expressing concern that the 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 1999 Bergier Commission report 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 new 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.

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.

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.