Swiss Jews regret adoption of ban on full facial coverings

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FCSI) and the Platform for Liberal Jews in Switzerland (PLJS) expressed regret at the adoption of a popular initiative to ban full face coverings, and voiced concerns about future restrictions to religious freedom.

The popular initiative entitled “Yes to the ban on full face covering”, was adopted on March 7 by a narrow majority of 51.2% of the Swiss electorate. 20 out of 26 of the country’s cantons voted in favour of the initiative.

Following the referendum, Switzerland will introduce a clause in its constitution to outlaw face coverings, including the Islamic burka and niqab, in public spaces.

Exceptions to the law will include face coverings for reasons of security, climate, or health – which means protective masks worn against Covid-19 are acceptable. Niqabs and burkas will still be allowed in places of worship.

Ahead of the vote, both organisations had spoken our against a ban, arguing that it represented a disproportionate restriction of religious freedom.

“Religious freedom is an essential value in a free and democratic society. The protection thereof is laid down in the Swiss Federal Constitution,” read a joint statement.

“Every person is guaranteed the right to freely choose their religion, to profess it alone or in community with others, to practice it and to express it. This also includes the right to follow religious customs and commandments, which also include religious dress customs and regulations,” it continued.

“With the adoption of this popular initiative, a provision is set to enter the constitution that restricts and violates several conditions of religious freedom. Both organisations are concerned that further legislative or federal popular initiatives could further undermine religious freedom in the future.”

“[Consequently] SIG/FCSI and PLJS call for the freedom of religion enshrined in the federal constitution to be respected,” the statement concluded.

The SIG/FCSI is Switzerland’s EJC affiliate.

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