International Religious Freedom Report 2003
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. Three quarters of the population nominally adhere to either the Catholic or the Protestant Church, the two predominant denominations, but actual church attendance rates are much lower. The Muslim population is the largest religious minority, making up approximately 4 percent of the resident population. Over 11 percent of citizens claim no formal allegiance to any church or religious community at all.

The breakdown between the different religious denominations has shifted noticeably over the past several years. Traditionally, over 95 percent of the population has been evenly split between the Protestant and the Catholic Church, but since the 1970s, there has been a steady increase of persons formally renouncing their church membership. In the Catholic Church, immigration from southern Europe has countervailed this trend. The arrival of immigrants from other parts has contributed to the noticeable growth of religious communities, which in the past had no or no strong presence in the country. According to the Federal Government's Statistics Office, membership in religious denominations is as follows: 41.8 percent Roman Catholic, 33.0 percent Protestant, 1.8 percent Orthodox, 0.2 percent Old Catholic, and 0.2 percent other Christian groups; 4.3 percent Muslim, 0.2 percent Jewish, and 0.8 percent other religions (Buddhist, Hindi, and other); 11.1 percent no formal creed.

The Muslim population has doubled to more than 310,000 over the past several years, due to the influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Although only two mosques exist--in Zurich and Geneva--there are approximately 120 Islamic centers throughout the country, making Muslims the country's largest non-Christian minority.

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 26 cantons (states) financially support at least one of the three traditional denominations--Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Protestant--with funds collected through taxation. Each canton has its own regulations regarding the relationship between church and state. In some cantons, the church tax is voluntary but in others an individual who chooses not to contribute to church tax may formally have to leave the church. In some cantons private companies are unable to avoid payment of the church tax. Some cantons grant "church taxation" status, which the traditional three Christian denominations enjoy, to the Jewish community. In March the Zurich cantonal parliament adopted an amendment to the cantonal constitution that would provide for the recognition of non-traditional religious communities and allow them to levy a tax on their members and to receive public funds. The amendment is expected to be put to a cantonal referendum by the end of 2003. A religious organization must register with the Government in order to receive tax-exempt status.

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 canton. 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.

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 $10.8 million (15 million Swiss francs) to use over a 5-year period. Of this money, $360,000 (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, but the project was abandoned during the period covered by this report after they could not secure financing from the public and private sector. The Center hoped to produce curricula material to address the roots of racism, provide exhibits designed to teach historical lessons, offer academic research opportunities, and host international symposia. The association held its first symposium "Bern-Discussion for Tolerance" in November 2001 in a hotel in Bern.

In April 2002, the representatives of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim religious communities constituted an association for the creation of a "House of Religions" in Bern. The project organizers envision the house as a meeting place to foster dialog among the different religious communities. The organizers presented a feasibility study in December 2002, and held a conference with more than 60 representatives of the different communities in March. The financing for the project has not yet been assured; total cost to establish the House of Religions are estimated to run up to $9 million (12 million Swiss francs).

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

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.

Through several court cases between 1995 and 2000 the Federal Court consistently ruled the Church of Scientology as a primarily commercial, rather than religious, entity.

On April 28, the Federal Court (Supreme Court) ruled that it was constitutional to refuse a license to run a private school to a body affiliated with the Church of Scientology, because of the church's controversial nature, a stance the Court had already taken previously in 1993 and 1996. In a unanimous decision, the Court noted that mandatory schooling was a constitutional duty of the cantons and that each canton may reserve licenses to private parties that can be fully expected to discharge this public duty; neither the constitutional provisions on economic freedom, religious freedom, nor the freedom of assembly grant an absolute right to run a private school for children of mandatory schooling age. The Federal Court thus upheld a decision of the Lucerne cantonal government to close a private primary school run by a woman formally associated with the Church of Scientology. The Lucerne Educational Board in 1998 authorized the woman to start the school but the cantonal government revoked the license 1 year later. In November 2002, the cantonal Administrative Court threw out an appeal on the grounds that the woman could not be entrusted with the education of children of mandatory schooling age because of her personal and financial links to the Church of Scientology. The woman appealed to the Federal Court, which ruled against her. The school remained open pending a final verdict but is expected to close once the pupils have been placed in other schools.

On February 5, the Geneva Cantonal Government confirmed its decision to fire public school teacher Hani Ramadan, a Muslim cleric, after hearing his views. Ramadan had been suspended from teaching since October 2002 following the publication of an article in the French newspaper Le Monde in September 2002, in which he came out in favor of the stoning of adulterers as set out in Shari'a law. The Cantonal president publicly stated that the justification of stoning ran counter to the values of the Geneva republic, adding that Ramadan twice had been clearly warned in writing in previous years. Geneva has strict laws separating church and state, which restrict cantonal employees; ability to express personal views in an official setting. In an administrative investigation commissioned by the Geneva authorities, the former Geneva cantonal prosecutor-general concluded in December 2002 that Ramadan had violated the terms of his employment and that his clerical functions as Director of the Islamic Center of Geneva were incompatible with the separation of Church and State. Ramadan decided to appeal the decision.

In October 2002, the immigration authorities of the Canton of Valais refused to grant a residency permit to the Macedonian Imam Sevgani Asanoski on the grounds that his religious education was too radical and potentially endangered the religious peace among different Muslim communities in the country. An advisory body on immigration of the Federal Government had positively reviewed Asanoski's application for residency permit to serve as Imam of the Islamic Center of Sion, but cantonal authorities decide autonomously against it. Asanoski appealed the decision of the Valais immigration authorities to the Valais cantonal government, but the latter rejected the appeal in May. Asanoski has not appealed the Valais government decision.

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. In October 2002, the Zurich City Council opened a credit line of $1.3 million (1.8 million Swiss francs) and construction of the Muslim cemetery adjacent to an existing public cemetery in a Zurich suburb was underway at the end of the period covered by this report. 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 December 9, 2002, the Government sent a draft animal rights bill to Parliament that upholds the existing ban on ritual slaughter, but explicitly allows for the import of kosher and halal meat. Ritual slaughter (the bleeding to death of animals that have not been stunned first) has been banned in the country since 1893. The Government in an earlier draft proposed to lift the ban on ritual slaughter, which it considered an infringement of the freedom of religious minorities, but in March 2002 backed down after the proposal provoked a wave of opposition from animal right and consumer groups, veterinary surgeons, and farmers, arguing that the practice inflicted undue suffering on animals. The Government decided to maintain the ban in the interest of religious peace after consulting with Jewish organizations. Kosher and halal meat generally is already readily available in the country 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.

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.

Jewish groups report that their members are more frequently subject to anti-Semitic criticism; on April 28, unknown persons spray painted anti-Semitic slogans on the Lausanne synagogue, causing minor damage. There were no other reports of any anti-Semitic incidents during the period covered by this report. The Federal Commission Against Racism (EKR) has met with the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities (SIG) to discuss the intensification of the Middle East conflict and its impact on Jewish persons in the country. EKR and SIG agreed that criticism of Israeli policy does not in itself amount to anti-Semitism, but could foster anti-Semitic attitudes.

In 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.