Bern calls for new office to debate questions of religion

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 7 Feb, 2017 Updated Tue 7 Feb 2017 09:38 CEST
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Is a burqa ban against the Swiss constitution? How do you deal with a Muslim schoolboy who refuses to shake his female teacher’s hand? Do burkinis contravene swimming pool hygiene rules?

As such questions are becoming more prevalent in Switzerland, the federal government is considering setting up a new religious affairs office to help the cantons tackle the issues involved, reported Swiss media. 
Under the jurisdiction of the federal justice ministry, the religious affairs office would be a point of contact and coordination between the Confederation, cantons, communes and religious communities in Switzerland, government spokesman Raphael Frei told Le Tribune de Genève
While the cantons ultimately have the authority in such matters, their decisions can have implications at federal level, said Frei. 
For example, after the canton of Ticino voted in 2013 to bring in a ban on the burqa, the cantonal authorities had to check that a ban would be compatible with federal law.
“These questions concern religious freedom, security, integration and antiracism laws,” said Frei, adding that the working group would ensure a “coherent attitude” within the federal government.
The Swiss Council of Religions welcomed the news, saying the proposed body would help cantonal authorities faced with important religious issues, reported the Tribune.
It’s not the first time a religious affairs office has been suggested. Back in 2010 a similar project was rejected, with opponents feeling Switzerland already had enough structure in place to deal with questions of religious freedom. 
However since then religious issues have created tension in the country on a number of occasions.
In 2014 a pupil took her a school to court after it banned her from wearing the Islamic headscarf in class, a decision overturned by the St Gallen court. 
Last year a school in Therwil made national headlines when it was revealed that two Muslim pupils had refused to shake their female teacher’s hand – a custom in Swiss schools – because they felt it went against their religious beliefs. 
The school initially exempted the boys from the custom, until authorities in the canton eventually ruled that they must obey or their parents would face a fine, saying gender equality and integration outweighed freedom of religion. 
Also last year the management of a swimming pool in Basel was criticized over its decision to ban certain types of burkini, saying it was trying to combat overcrowding.
The religious make-up of Switzerland has evolved over the past 40 years, according to a 2015 census. 
Of a percentage of the permanent resident population, the number of Catholics slightly decreased from 46 percent to 37 percent, while the number of Protestants fell more dramatically, from 48 percent to 24 percent. 
The number of Muslims rose from 0.2 percent in 1970 to 5.1 percent in 2015. 
Meanwhile there are more atheists in Switzerland than ever, up from 1.2 percent in 1970 to 23.9 percent in 2015.



The Local 2017/02/07 09:38

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