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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Can I still have a religious wedding or funeral if I don’t pay Swiss church tax?

An 'ecclesiastical tax’ is mandatory in most of Switzerland’s cantons. Does opting out of this fee mean the church can turn down your request for a marriage or other religious services? Here’s what you should know.

Can I still have a religious wedding or funeral if I don’t pay Swiss church tax?
Chances are you can get married in a Swiss church even if you skip your taxes. Photo by Davide De Giovanni from Pexels

Switzerland is one of only a handful of countries to levy a church tax. 

For more information on the tax, including which cantons have made it mandatory, check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: What is ‘church tax’ in Switzerland and do I have to pay it?

But what happens if you never declared your religious affiliation when registering with your local commune or if you decide to opt out of paying this tax afterwards?

Do you still have a prayer of being part of the church community, and benefiting from religious services such as marriage or funeral?

This is only an issue if you are a resident of cantons other than Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud, and Ticino, where a church tax is not levied.

If you live in the other 22 cantons, this is what you should know.

The only marriage considered legal in Switzerland is the one performed at a civil registry office. Religious ones are optional, so if you are not a churchgoer and don’t particularly care about the religious ceremony, then you can skip it altogether.

However if you, like many other couples, want to say ‘I do’ in front of a priest or minister after being already wed civilly, but you don’t pay church taxes, you have some other options to consider.

READ MORE: Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland? 

Are you a part of your local Catholic or Protestant congregation?

If you attend services more or less regularly, participate in various parish activities, and maybe even make a voluntary donation to the church, the chances of your pastor marrying you are greater than if you just walk off the street and ask to be wed.

Keep in mind, however, that regardless of whether you are a member of a particular congregation or not, most churches will ask you to undergo a “marriage preparation course” beforehand.

This means you have to invest some time and effort into a religious wedding ceremony.

Can a clergyperson refuse to marry a church tax evader even if all the above steps are taken?

There is nothing in the law to prevent him or her from turning down your request; churches are not required to marry everyone who shows up on their doorstep, especially as a religious ceremony is not a legal necessity in Switzerland.

However, this doesn’t mean a parish will automatically refuse to marry all those who don’t pay taxes. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that if you fulfil all the requirements listed above, a priest or minister will wed you, but you will be charged a fee for this service.

How much will depend on your place of residence and your parish, but you can expect to pay upward of 1,000 francs.

What about a funeral?

Anyone can be buried in Switzerland without a religious ceremony; the family can make all the arrangements directly with the undertaker.

However, if a religious service is requested for a deceased who did not pay his church taxes, conditions similar to those related to marriage would apply. In other words, clergy would most likely not refuse this sacred rite to anyone on the grounds that he or she didn’t pay taxes.

Here again, the family would have to assume the costs of the service.

READ MORE: Funerals, burials and wills: What you should know about dying in Switzerland

To sum up, and in general terms, you don’t have to automatically give up your dream of being married or buried (if that’s your thing) by a member of the clergy. It all depends on a number of other factors.

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For members

SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland wants to cut social assistance for non-Europeans

The Swiss government has unveiled a proposal which would cut social assistance for non-European residents. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland wants to cut social assistance for non-Europeans

As part of a draft revision of the law on foreigners and integration, the Federal Council is proposing to reduce social assistance paid to nationals of third countries.

“During the first three years following the granting a residence permit, the rate of social assistance should be lower than that applied to the native population”, authorities said.

The rationale of the plan is to “create incentives for better work integration”. 

The proposal has been developed by Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter. 

The project was in a consultation phase until May 3rd, after which it will be presented to Swiss parliament.

The cut would save an estimated three million francs per year nationwide. 

What does the proposal say? 

Under the plan, the amount of social assistance will be reduced in the first three years for foreigners in Switzerland, provided they come from outside the EU. 

The social aid paid to non-Europeans is already relatively low, with amounts varying from CHF600 to CHF1,000 depending on the canton. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland wants to cut welfare and boost integration for non-EU citizens

Anyone who has a ‘C’ category residency permit and who receives social assistance will lose it more easily than under the previous scheme. 

The law will also see a more defined set of requirements for integration for temporarily admitted persons. 

In addition, the Federal Statistical Office should regularly report accurate figures of how many foreigners are receiving social assistance. 

In addition, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) must approve the extension of residency permits of individuals who incur “significant” social welfare costs. 

Keller-Sutter will also draw up a uniform set of recommendations for social assistance for foreigners for the cantons. 

What are people saying? 

While the proposal has not yet been finalised, the idea has sparked heavy criticism, while some foreigners are fearful of what it might mean for them should the assistance be lowered. 

A spokesperson for the Social Democrats told Swiss tabloid Blick a cut would be “unworldly and cynical”, while the Greens say such a move would be unconstitutional. 

The proposal sparked criticism from the Swiss Workers’ Welfare Organisation, whose spokesperson, Caroline Morel, pointed out that “in social assistance, the amount of support benefits is calculated according to needs and not the length of stay in Switzerland”.

“We oppose the downgrading of the residence status of foreigners who receive social assistance. We also oppose lower social assistance rates for the first three years, as these are inhumane and hinder professional and social integration.”

“It is clear that these tightening measures will primarily affect vulnerable people such as children, people with special needs, and women”, she added.

The Swiss People’s Party on the other hand have spoken out in favour of the changes, saying it would help curb increases in social assistance contributions. 

 

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