The constitution guarantees freedom of faith and conscience and states each person has the right to choose his or her religion. The federal penal code prohibits any form of “debasement,” which is not specifically defined, or discrimination against any religion or religious adherents.
Inciting racial hatred or discrimination, including by electronic means and on the basis of religion, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine. The law also penalizes anyone who refuses to provide a service because of someone’s religion, or who “denies, justifies, or plays down genocide or other crimes against humanity.”
A federal animal welfare law prevents ritual slaughter of animals without prior anesthetization for kosher and halal meat. Importation of traditionally slaughtered kosher and halal meat is legal and such products are available.
There is no official state church; the constitution delegates religious matters to the 26 cantons, which regulate the activities of religious communities, including the issuance of licenses and property permits. The cantons offer legal recognition as public entities to religious communities that fulfill a number of prerequisites, including a statement acknowledging the right of religious freedom; the democratic organization of the community; respect for the cantonal constitution and rule of law; and financial transparency. The cantons of Basel, Zurich, and Vaud also offer religious communities public legal recognition as private entities. This gives them the right to teach their religions in public schools, as well as other rights that vary from canton to canton. Procedures for obtaining private legal recognition vary; for example, in Basel the approval of the canton’s Grand Council is required.
The constitution sets education policy at the cantonal level, but municipal school authorities have some discretion in implementing cantonal guidelines. Most public cantonal schools offer religious education, with the exception of schools in Geneva and Neuchatel. Public schools normally offer classes in Catholic and/or Protestant doctrines with the precise details varying from canton to canton and sometimes from school to school; a few schools provide instruction on other religious groups in the country. The municipalities of Ebikon and Kriens in the Canton of Lucerne offer religious classes in Islamic doctrine, as does the municipality of Kreuzlingen in the Canton of Thurgau. In some cantons, religious classes are voluntary, while in others, such as in Zurich and Fribourg, they form part of the mandatory curriculum at the secondary school level; however, waivers are routinely granted for children whose parents request them. Children from minority religious groups may attend classes for their own religious group during the class period. Parents may also send their children to private religious schools to classes offered by religious groups, or they may homeschool their children.
Most cantons either complement or replace traditional classes in Christian doctrines with more general classes about religion and culture. There are no national guidelines for waivers on religious grounds from classes other than religious instruction, and practices vary.
The construction of minarets is banned in accord with a national referendum. The ban does not apply to the four existing mosques with minarets. New mosques may be built without minarets.
All of the cantons, with the exception of Geneva, Neuchatel, Ticino, and Vaud, financially support at least one of four religious communities – Roman Catholic, Christian Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish – with funds collected through a mandatory church tax for registered church members and, in some cantons, businesses. The church tax is voluntary in the cantons of Ticino, Neuchatel, and Geneva, while in all others an individual who chooses not to pay the church tax may have to leave the religious institution formally. The canton of Vaud is the only canton that does not collect a church tax; however, the Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations are subsidized directly through the cantonal budget. Islamic and other unrecognized religious groups are not eligible to receive funding collected via the church tax.
There is no law requiring the registration of a religious group. The granting of tax-exempt status to a religious group varies from canton to canton. Most cantons automatically grant tax-exempt status to those religious communities that receive cantonal financial support, while all other religious communities must generally submit an application for tax-exempt status to the cantonal government.
Religious groups of foreign origin are free to proselytize, but regulations set specific standards for foreign missionaries to enter the country. Foreign missionaries must obtain a religious worker visa to work in the country. Visa requirements include proof that the foreigner does not displace a citizen from a job; that he/she has completed formal theological training; that he/she will be financially supported by the host organization; that he/she is willing to participate in integration courses; and that the number of the organization’s religious workers is not out of proportion to the size of the community when compared to the number of religious workers from the cantonally recognized religious communities.
Foreign missionaries must also have sufficient knowledge of, respect for, and understanding of Swiss customs and culture; be conversant in at least one of the three main national languages; and hold a degree in theology. The law requires immigrant clerics with insufficient language skills and knowledge of local culture and customs, regardless of religious affiliation, to attend mandatory language courses as well as related specialist training to facilitate their integration into society.
In some instances, the cantons may approve an applicant lacking this proficiency by devising an “integration agreement” that contains certain goals the applicant must try to meet. The host organization must also “recognize the country’s legal norms” and pledge it will not tolerate abuse by members. If an applicant is unable to meet these requirements, the government may deny the residency and work permits.
The law also allows the government to refuse residency and work permits if a background check reveals an individual has ties to religious groups deemed “radicalized” or has engaged in “hate preaching,” defined as publicly inciting hatred against a religious group, disseminating ideologies intended to defame members of a religious group, organizing defamatory propaganda campaigns, public discrimination, denying or trivializing genocide and other crimes against humanity, or refusing to provide service based on religion. The law authorizes immigration authorities to refuse residency permits to clerics considered “fundamentalists” by the government if the authorities deem internal security or public order is at risk.