Switzerland Vote Disappointing Blow to Religious Freedom


Freedom House condemns Switzerland’s vote to ban the new construction of minarets in the country as a setback for religious freedom.

The referendum put forth by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) on November 29, 2009 to ban the further construction of minarets—the towers attached to mosques that are used to call Muslims to prayer—passed with 57 percent of the vote despite opposition by the Swiss government. The vote does not impact the construction of new mosques and does not affect the existing four minarets already erected in the country. 

“This is a dangerous backslide for religious freedom in a country that prides itself on being a haven of freedom and considers religious tolerance a basic element of its founding constitution,” said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.

In a country of 7.5 million people, Muslims represent approximately five percent of the Swiss population and are the third largest religious group.  In recent years there has been a concerning increase in the popularity of right-wing and anti-immigration parties in Switzerland and other parts of Europe that seek to restrict the rights of Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Denmark and other countries have placed severe restrictions on asylum seekers while economic discrimination against immigrants is a serious problem in France, Italy, and other European Union countries. 

“The true strength of democracies lies in their ability to protect the rights of all of their citizens, rather than just the interests of the majority,” continued Windsor.  “Switzerland and other European countries today are falling short of their obligations to protect the rights of immigrants and—with this vote—the rights of religious minorities.” 

Switzerland is ranked Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.

For more information on Switzerland, visit:

Freedom in the World 2009: Switzerland

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Switzerland since 1972.


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