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  • October 2018: Naturalisation refused for a handshake

In July 2018, a Muslim couple’s application for Swiss citizenship was rejected because they refused to shake hands and were reluctant to speak to a person of the opposite sex during their interview. In Switzerland, the naturalisation procedure involves an interview with municipal officials to assess whether the criteria for ’integration’ into the country have been met. The municipality of Lausanne, represented by its mayor, took the view that "not shaking hands with people of the opposite sex or not answering their questions contradicted the principle of equality between men and women".

The municipality’s decision provoked strong reactions, both nationally and in the international press, both against and in favour of the decision. The comments revolved around the question of the place of religious convictions (and more specifically Muslim convictions) and whether they should be tolerated in naturalisation procedures. The criteria for obtaining Swiss nationality leave a fair amount of room for interpretation by the examiners.

Anaïd Lindemann
  • September 2018: A map showing religious diversity in the canton of Vaud

Between 2017 and 2018, the Inter-cantonal Centre for Information on Beliefs (CIC) conducted a project to locate religious and spiritual communities in the canton of Vaud. The team of sociologists involved in the project identified and documented almost 800 communities. This mapping project provides an overview of the existence of religion and spirituality in the canton.

The results are not yet available, but an exhibition of photographs taken by students at the Lausanne School of Art is currently being held in the Espace Arlaud. An identical project had already been carried out between 2012 and 2014 in the canton of Geneva, the results of which are available on the website. Like the Geneva map, a website for the canton of Vaud will include an interactive map of the canton, through which places of worship may be located and information about them obtained.

Anaïd Lindemann
  • August 2018: The University of Geneva offers training for imams

In autumn 2018, for the second year running, the University of Geneva will offer a selective one-year training course for Swiss imams, focusing primarily on knowledge of the context in which they work.

In 2017, only 2 out of six participants completed this demanding course. The course structure is two semesters (French language and socio-cultural decoding, followed by Swiss culture and society) with compulsory validation of the first semester before being admitted to the second. The whole point of the first part of the course is to enable participants to understand the many different meanings of certain terms in different contexts and languages and to find teachers qualified to teach about these different contexts. The aim of the second part of the course is not to provide courses in Islamic theology, but rather to enable participants to understand the methodology used to establish Islamic theology in Switzerland, as Protestant theology, for example, has been established. The challenge is both to stabilise the teaching team and to recruit participants who are available and interested in something which represents an opportunity for them, but also the questioning of fundamentals, sometimes not easy to implement within their own communities, which are still very traditional. The course has been widely scrutinised abroad, particularly in France, so synergies may be developed with the latter. In Switzerland, a country still untouched by Islamist attacks, the project was mainly seen and presented as a way of combating extremism.

Camille Andres
  • February 2018: Zurich: Muslim Chaplains

In Switzerland, Christian chaplaincy is provided and funded by the national churches. Muslim chaplaincy services, on the other hand, have to be provided by (non-recognised) Muslim organisations, and are generally implemented on a voluntary, part-time basis. Two developments in 2018 raised the question of the status of these Muslim chaplaincies.

Firstly, a full-time Muslim chaplain was hired by a prison in Zurich (Pöschwies) for the first time in Switzerland. This first official imam was also the first Muslim student to enrol in the Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) in chaplaincy at the University of Bern, which until then had been reserved for Christian students.

In addition, a pilot project for Muslim chaplains was launched in a federal centre for asylum seekers, also in Zurich (Juch). Three Muslim chaplains, two men and a woman, work in this centre, which houses 300 asylum seekers. The pilot project, launched in 2016 by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), was assessed very positively in 2018: the SEM recommends extending this new chaplaincy nationwide.

However, the project has had to be suspended, as the legal basis does not allow it to be funded. The question of the role of Muslim chaplains in certain establishments has therefore been reopened. According to experts, these chaplains fulfil three main roles: they act as intermediaries between cultures because of their linguistic and cultural proximity, they model a form of “Islam compatible with a secular state"; and they play a key role in preventing radicalisation.

Main source: Le Temps.

Anaïd Lindemann

 February 2018: Bern: a label for religious communities

In the canton of Bern, socialist Mohamed Hamdaoui submitted a proposal in February 2018 to introduce a non-binding religious charter, to be signed by religious communities not subject to the Bernese National Churches Act. The signing of this document would lead to the award of a label or certificate attesting to the commitment of the signatories to observe various rules, such as:
 strict respect for the legal order;
 equality between men and women;
 financial transparency;
 officiating ministers must at least one national language;
 officiating ministers must have attended civic education courses;
 a ban on all forms of incitement to hatred;
 encouraging the integration of the faithful into the community.

The aim of this proposal was to reduce the climate of mistrust towards certain religious communities, particularly Muslims, and to facilitate contacts with the population. The Berne Executive Council agreed to study this proposal.

Main source:

Anaïd Lindemann
  • March 2018: A legal bill on the secular state in Geneva

Under Switzerland’s federal system, each canton decides how to regulate the relationship between the State and religions, within the limits set by the Constitution. In the canton of Geneva, considered to be the most secular in Switzerland, Article 3(3) of the new constitution of 2012 states that "the authorities shall maintain relations with the religious communities". As some political players found this article problematic, a working group on secularism (GTL) was set up in 2013 and concluded that the relationship between the State and religion did not respect secularism. The Grand Council of Geneva’s Human Rights Committee then submitted a bill, which had been under debate since February 2018.

The bill aims to provide a legal basis for the secular nature of the State and regulate its relations with the various religious communities. The bill was debated article by article at the February session, resulting in 31 amendments from members of the Grand Council. We will probably have to wait two more sessions for each of these amendments to be voted on and the bill adopted. Two of the amendments are particularly sensitive issues:

 the ban on the wearing of "conspicuous religious symbols" by elected members of the Grand Council (the cantonal legislature) and municipal councils (the municipal deliberative bodies): in the bill, the ban was intended to apply only to the executive. The requested amendment gave rise to some debate, not least because two municipal councillors wore a headscarf. The amendment was accepted by a majority.
 abolition of the voluntary religious contribution organised by State services as soon as the Secularism law comes into force: the bill proposes to abolish this contribution after 10 or 20 years, to give the beneficiary churches time to find other ways of collecting it. The amendment proposing to abolish it as soon as the law comes into force was rejected by the majority. The question of abolishing it in 10 or 20 years’ time will be debated at the next session of the Grand Council.

Main source: Protestinfo.

Anaïd Lindemann

D 3 October 2018    AAnaïd Lindemann ACamille Andres

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