On grounds of limiting the possible spread of radical Islam, local governments denied an application by the ICCS to hold its annual conference in Fribourg and refused permission to establish a private Islamic nursery school in Zurich. Courts overturned efforts by some cantons to enforce bans on head coverings, but local governments in other cantons proceeded to impose such bans.
In a widely publicized case, a court ruled that a man’s performance of the Hitler salute at a right-wing gathering was an expression of his opinion and not the promotion of National Socialist ideology.
In early November the authorities of Saane District rejected the ICCS’s application for hosting its yearly conference in Fribourg. Authorities said they rejected the application because a final list of participants was not included, and the speakers could have included Islamic preachers who wished to spread radical messages. The ICCS subsequently submitted a complaint to the cantonal court of Fribourg. The federal court backed the ruling of the Fribourg authorities and rejected the ICCS’s complaint. Following this decision, the cantonal authorities approved an application by the Islamic Youth of Switzerland and the Islamic Youth of Lucerne to hold a demonstration to protest against the ban of the ICCS’s yearly conference.
On March 5, the Rheintal district court in the canton of St. Gallen acquitted the parents of a Muslim girl of charges brought against them by the state prosecutor, who had indicted the couple for breaching the cantonal education law after their daughter refused to go to school without a headscarf, despite the school’s imposition of a headscarf ban. The court acquitted the couple of the charges due to the irreconcilability between the headscarf ban and the constitutional guarantee of freedom of faith and conscience. On November 11, the administrative court of the canton of St. Gallen approved a complaint submitted by the same couple regarding the cantonal education department’s headscarf prohibition. The case was pending in federal court at year’s end.
On September 29, the canton of Thurgau declared there was no legal basis for banning headscarves at schools. The decision followed a federal court ruling in 2013 that stated schools had no power to prohibit the wearing of headscarves in the absence of a legal or constitutional basis. The 2013 case was the result of a legal complaint filed by the fathers of two Muslim girls with Thurgau school authorities in 2011 against a school regulation prohibiting items covering the head, including caps, headscarves, and sunglasses. Following the federal court’s verdict, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party of Thurgau submitted a motion to create such a legal basis, which was ultimately rejected by the Thurgau cantonal parliament by 62 to 51 votes in September.
On November 12, a local government requested the federal parliament approve the canton of Ticino’s vote to impose a ban on head coverings (defined as facial coverings for religious reasons or facial coverings aimed at maintaining anonymity while perpetrating violent acts in public) dating back to a cantonal referendum in September 2013. Although the referendum language did not explicitly mention Islam, referendum supporters stated the legislation targeted Muslim women wearing burkas as well as the individuals forcing them to do so. The referendum results must be approved by the federal parliament prior to implementation. The federal parliament is expected to address the issue in early 2015.
On March 11, the city parliament of St. Gallen approved the city government’s request to adapt the legal regulation on cemeteries to allow for the creation of up to 450 Muslim gravesites. The new regulations took effect in July. This brought the number of municipalities providing land for Muslim burials to 16.
The parents of two girls who had lost a 2012 Supreme Court case requiring their daughters to participate in mandatory swimming lessons at their school appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The appeal was pending at the end of the year.
In July the al Huda Islamic Association appealed the Zurich education authority’s decision to reject its application to establish a private Islamic nursery school to educate children in Arabic and on the teachings of the Quran. Zurich’s education authority rejected the application due to al Huda’s reported connection to the ICCS. The education authority stated that the objectives of the ICCS could lead to the teaching of biased values contravening the guiding principles of tolerance and openness in the cantonal schools. The education authority also said it doubted whether the nursery school could achieve the goals set by the cantonal school curriculum. The case was pending with Zurich’s cantonal government at year’s end.
Muslim groups said the obtaining of licenses for establishing Muslim meeting venues or mosques occasionally proved difficult and often required direct appeals to members of the local community to secure approval for requests.
In December the cantonal government of Aargau approved a complaint by the Islamic Albanian community of Gebenstorf regarding the municipal council’s decision to prohibit a restaurant from being converted into an Islamic meeting space. The local Gebenstorfer community reportedly feared the site would create too much noise in the neighborhood and clash with the municipality’s rural environment. The cantonal government called on the municipal council to grant a building license to remodel the restaurant into a prayer room, a recreation room, several classrooms, and office spaces. The Gebenstorfer mayor said the municipality would appeal the cantonal government’s verdict and bring the case to the cantonal administrative court.
According to the Swiss Israelite Association (SIG), the ban on minarets, the obligation for girls to participate in swimming lessons organized by schools, and the ongoing discussions about banning head coverings were all signs of a continuing trend toward limiting religious freedom.
In a well-publicized case, the high court of the canton of Uri in July acquitted a man of racial discrimination, a charge that included discrimination on religious grounds, and compensated him with 3,800 Swiss francs (CHF) ($3842) after the federal court’s earlier verdict that the man’s performance of the Hitler salute during a gathering of a right-wing extremist group in 2010 was an expression of his opinion and not the promotion of National Socialist ideology.
Religious civil society representatives said the integration of Muslim migrants into society was sometimes hindered by a lack of information about integration programs despite the recommendation of a 2013 government study that the integration of Muslims be handled through cantonal migrant integration programs. The civil society groups said more resources and better qualified personnel were required for communicating essential integration information to migrants.
The government granted visas primarily to religious workers who intended to replace individuals serving in similar functions in the same religious community. In addition to meeting all of the legal requirements for visas, Turkish nationals applying for short- and long-term religious worker visas needed to show they were associated with the Turkish Central Authority for Religious Affairs. There was no fixed number of residence permits allocated to Turkish imams. The decision whether to grant a permit depended on the applicant’s ability to prove that he had sufficient financial means to stay in Switzerland during the course of his assignment.
According to the courts, missionaries of certain denominations such as Mormons were ineligible for religious visas because they did not possess a theology degree. Mormon missionaries from Schengen Area countries were allowed to work in the country, however, because they did not require visas to enter the country.
As of the end of October, the most recent date for which data was available, the Federal Service for Combating Racism provided funding for 51 projects, some of which focused on religious freedom issues, including religious discrimination, inter-religious learning, and the Holocaust. The available subsidies for all projects conducted during the year stood at approximately CHF 850,000 ($859,000).
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.