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GENEVA

‘Witch hunt’: Lake Geneva baptism ban infuriates evangelicals

The Swiss canton of Geneva has banned baptisms in the waters of Lake Geneva organised by evangelical churches -- a decision they branded a "witch hunt".

Baptisms can no longer take place in the pristine waters of Lake Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Baptisms can no longer take place in the pristine waters of Lake Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The canton — comprising the city of Geneva and its hinterland that forms the western end of the lake — took the step on July 8, amid a backdrop of debates around secularism.

“It’s an abuse of authority,” Jean-Francois Bussy, president of the Evangelical Federation of the neighbouring canton of Vaud, told AFP.

Baptisms in Lake Geneva are permitted in Vaud, which covers the rest of the lake’s northern shore.

“We have had no complaints in the canton of Vaud, which is much more liberal at this level than Geneva, which in my opinion applies fundamentalist secularism and a quite detestable witch hunt,” said Bussy, who heads the Vaud branch of the Swiss Evangelical Network in French-speaking western Switzerland that has around 40,000 members.

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Among the Swiss confederation’s 26 cantons, Geneva and Neuchatel are the only two secular ones.

The separation of church and state has been enshrined in Geneva law for more than a century.

Geneva is nevertheless famous for having welcomed the French theologian Jean Calvin in 1536, who made the city a bastion of the Protestant Reformation, and whose statue stands against the old town’s city walls.

“Baptism is a religious service”, said the Geneva authorities, while the canton “has established the principle whereby religious events take place in private”, therefore excluding the shores and public beaches of Lake Geneva.

“Only organisations permitted to have relations with the state can request authorisation for a public religious event” — and the two evangelical parishes concerned are not among them, the authorities added.

To get on that list, organisations must undertake to exclude acts of physical or psychological violence, spiritual abuse as well as discrimination on the basis of ethnic or national origin and sexual or gender identity.

According to Bussy, “it is not very clear what motivates the cantonal authority to ban events like this which do not contravene public order”, constituting a “peaceful example of a laudable religious practice”.

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GENEVA

What Geneva residents should know about new compulsory waste sorting

The Swiss canton of Geneva is the first in the country to make waste sorting compulsory for all residents and businesses. Here's a run through of what you need to know.

What Geneva residents should know about new compulsory waste sorting

This legislation, adopted on Friday by the Geneva parliament, introduces several reforms, including the sorting obligation for households, businesses, and public entities.

It aims at at reducing the amount of waste generated in the canton, improving recycling, and disposing of trash in an environmentally friendly manner.  The initial objective is to lower incinerable waste by 25 percent within the next three years.

Geneva is the only canton in Switzerland that has not required the use of taxed trash bags, as every other city and canton has. These are either specially designated bags, priced according to their size (35, 60, or 100 litres) and place of residence, or a sticker to be affixed to a bag.  Taxes collected from the sale of these bags are used for municipal waste management.

However, Geneva has relied “on the voluntary collaboration of people” and has not required the bag tax, “which represents a high cost for households and whose effects in other cantons have not been convincing over time”, cantonal authorities said in a press release.   

In Geneva, the only rule is that “household waste must be placed in sturdy, watertight and closed bags meeting the OKS standard and then deposited in a container”.

OKS garbage bags are tested and certified for quality and resistance in accordance with the guidelines of the Swiss Association of Municipal Infrastructure.

However, as everywhere in the country, only non-recyclables can be bagged and tossed in the container; everything else should be sorted and properly recycled.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

What are the new rules?

The new legislation not only makes sorting and disposing of waste mandatory for everyone, but it will also ban single-use plastic, including disposable tableware and non-recyclable containers for take-away food — the only canton so far to take such measures.

Also, all plastic bags available in stores, including those intended for fruit and vegetables, will no longer be free of charge.

Additionally, all shops must provide special space for the customers to sort the packaging and leave waste on the premises. “This obligation should encourage retailers to drastically reduce the packaging of goods”, according to the canton.

What changes will you have to make?

While up to now you might have skipped on the sorting and recycling front, at least some of the time, the new law makes it compulsory everywhere in the canton, so it is no longer a matter of doing it sometimes but not always, and hoping nobody will notice.

These official links tell you what the canton expects you to do to reduce and properly dispose of your household waste.

And if you think any rule-breaking will go unnoticed, it probably will not.

“The noise, weight, smell and shape of the bags are all relevant indicators for assessing the quality of household sorting”, the canton said.

Inspectors will carry out spot checks and offenders will be fined for non-compliance.

While this system already exists in some communities, it is more random. In Geneva, on the other hand, it will become more thorough, as “powers of the municipalities in this area are extended”.

You have, however, some time to get used to the new rule.

Geneva’s Council of State will decide when the new law will enter into law and what the penalties will be.

The ban on the use of single-use plastic , however, will be enacted no later than January 1st, 2025.

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