Federal Council opposes building ban on minarets

Opinion on the popular initiative against the construction of minarets

Press Release, FDJP, 27.08.2008

Bern. The popular initiative against the construction of minarets has been submitted in accordance with the applicable regulations, but infringes guaranteed international human rights and contradicts the core values of the Swiss Federal Constitution. Such a ban would endanger peace between religions and would not help to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. In its Opinion, passed on Wednesday, the Federal Council therefore recommends that the Swiss parliament reject the initiative without making a counter-proposal.

The popular initiative against the construction of minarets was submitted on 8 July 2008 with 113 540 valid signatures. Its initiators wish to prohibit the building of minarets in Switzerland. They contend that such constructions symbolise a religious and political claim to power that calls into question the Federal Constitution and the Swiss system of law. In the view of the Federal Council, the initiative does not breach mandatory international law and is therefore permissible. Specifically, it does not infringe upon the core human rights that are recognised by all states and must be upheld by all. It is nonetheless irreconcilable with the various human rights that are guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and by the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN Covenant II).

Violates religious freedom and the discrimination ban
In particular, the initiative violates the principle of freedom of religion. Although the ECHR and the UN Covenant II permit religious freedoms to be restricted under certain conditions, those conditions are not fulfilled here. A general ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland cannot be justified by the protection of public safety and order. It would rule out the necessary review of reasonableness on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, the initiative disregards Switzerland's ban on discrimination. It targets an Islamic religious symbol in isolation while leaving the comparable symbolic constructions of other religions untouched.

Contradicts the core values of the Federal Constitution

In addition, this initiative, which purports to protect social and legal order in Switzerland, contradicts a number of the basic rights and principles that are rooted in the Federal Constitution: the principle of equality before the law and the ban on discrimination, the freedoms of religion and conscience, the constitutional guarantee of the right of ownership, the principle of proportionality and the observance of international law. A ban on the construction of minarets would also represent an disproportionate degree of interference in cantonal power. Based on their applicable building and spatial planning laws, local authorities are best placed to determine whether or not a construction project should go ahead. There is no reason to deviate from this tried-and-tested system with regard to buildings for a specific religious community.

Ineffective in the fight against extremism

If the aim of the initiative is to put a stop to the growing influence of Islam in Switzerland, it will not achieve this with a general building ban on minarets. Neither does the proposal represent an appropriate means of preventing and combating violence on the part of extremist fundamentalist groups. Federal and cantonal regulations on both domestic security and non-Swiss individuals already provide for effective measures to prevent such activities and protect Switzerland's constitutional foundations. The provisions governing the activities of foreign imams in Switzerland are an example here.

Endangers peace between religions; hinders integration

A ban on minaret construction might endanger peace between religions and hinder the integration of the Muslim population – the overwhelming majority of whom respect Switzerland's legal and social order. Finally, the passing of this popular initiative would not only be met by consternation among the international community, but would also damage Switzerland's standing around the world. This might, in turn, have a negative impact on the security of Swiss facilities and the interests of the Swiss economy. Like members of other religious communities, Muslims in Switzerland cannot invoke their faith to justify non-observance of universally applicable laws. As such, the state has no cause to impose stricter rules on the practice of this faith.

Contact / questions
Luzius Mader, Federal Office of Justice, T +41 58 462 41 02, Contact