Religious freedom in Switzerland

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The freedom of religion is in Switzerland protected. This is generally understood to mean the positive right to practice a religion. As is customary in Western countries, this also includes negative religious freedom , i.e. the right not to belong to any or not to a certain religious community or to be able to leave one and not to be forced to participate in ritual acts, celebrations or other religious practices or to be coerced.

Religious freedom is often seen as part of the comprehensive freedom of belief and conscience . In Switzerland it is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights . The public law recognition of religious communities is regulated in state church law, which in Switzerland is mainly implemented at cantonal level .

Constitutional basis

The Swiss Federal Constitution (BV) ensures freedom of belief and conscience in Article 15:

1 Freedom of belief and conscience is guaranteed.
2 Every person has the right to freely choose their religion and ideological convictions and to profess them alone or in community with others.
3 Everyone has the right to join or belong to a religious community and to follow religious instruction.
4 Nobody may be forced to join or belong to a religious community, to undertake a religious act or to follow religious instruction. "

Protected object

According to jurisprudence and legal doctrine, the term religion in Switzerland includes "all convictions that relate to the relationship of man to the divine, to the transcendent and have ideological dimensions".

Protected is the right to express and disseminate religious views, to deal critically with other religious views, to live according to one's religious convictions, to carry out the related acts, to observe the relevant regulations and to found religious communities.

Art. 15 para. 4 BV contains negative religious freedom. According to this, the state must not prevent anyone from leaving a religious community, oblige them to pay religious taxes for a religious community to which they do not belong, or force them to perform religious acts such as school prayer, field service or religious oath. Furthermore, teaching in public schools must be religiously neutral; in particular, Bible teaching is to be given as an optional subject separately from other teaching. In 1990, the Federal Supreme Court ruled crucifixes in classrooms at the Cadro primary school as a violation of the duty of religious neutrality in public schools ( BGE 116 Ia 252ff.).


According to Art. 36 BV, freedom of belief and conscience can - like other freedoms - be restricted under certain conditions . The use of public land for religious acts such as processions may be restricted for traffic police reasons (BGE 108 Ia 41). Commercial police regulations on peddling religious writings are also permitted (BGE 56 I 431).

The case law of the federal court judges - in contrast to the majority of legal doctrine and the case law of the German Federal Constitutional Court - the church tax liability for legal persons as constitutional (e.g. BGE 126 I 122, 125ff.). According to the Federal Supreme Court, general cantonal taxes are still to be paid by natural persons to the extent that they are used to finance contributions to churches (e.g. pastors' salaries); however, in the case of communal taxes, payment can be refused to the corresponding extent (BGE 107 Ia 126, 130).

Art. 20 f. Animal Welfare Act (TSG) prohibits the shafts prescribed in Judaism and Islam without prior stunning. However, the import of slaughtered meat is permitted (Art. 9 Para. 1 TSG). Restrictions on freedom of belief and conscience can also result from the obligation stipulated in Art. 59 Para. 1 BV for male citizens to perform military or alternative civilian service.

Art. 261 of the Criminal Code qualifies the disruption of freedom of religion and worship as an offense . Art. 261 bis of the Criminal Code (so-called racism penal norm ) criminalizes public discrimination, denigration or persecution of members of a religion. It is irrelevant whether the action is directed against representatives of a religious minority (e.g. Jews) or the Christian majority.

Art. 72 para. 3 of the Federal Constitution prohibits the construction of minarets .

In the canton of Ticino , the electorate voted in a referendum on September 22, 2013 for a ban on covering , which includes niqabs or burqas .

historical development

Until the founding of the Helvetic Republic , there was virtually no religious freedom in Switzerland. This particularly affected the Anabaptist communities ( Swiss Anabaptists ) that had existed in Switzerland since the Reformation and were persecuted well into the 18th century. In the Federal Constitution of 1848, freedom of worship was only granted to recognized Christian denominations.

With the partial revision of the Federal Constitution of 1866 was the Jews in Switzerland the freedom granted and the full exercise of civil rights. This equality came into force in all cantons , with the exception of the canton of Aargau , where it was only adopted on January 1, 1879.

In the completely revised Federal Constitution of 1874, freedom of religion was introduced to the extent it is today. However, it contained various exceptions : The Jesuit order was forbidden, as was the establishment of new monasteries and orders. Citizens of the clergy, including ordained Reformed pastors, were excluded from election to the National Council . The establishment of dioceses on Swiss territory was subject to federal approval.

The Jesuit ban and the monastery articles were lifted in 1973. With the 1999 constitution, the exclusion of clergymen from the National Council was dropped. The diocese article, however, was incorporated into the new constitution (Art. 72 Paragraph 3 BV) and only repealed in the referendum on June 10, 2001.

On November 29th, 2009 the minaret initiative was adopted, which forbids the construction of minarets in Switzerland. The Swiss government (Federal Council) and the two houses of parliament rejected the initiative and recommended that those entitled to vote put a no in the ballot box. According to the Federal Council and constitutional lawyers, the initiative restricts the religious freedom of Muslims . The opponents of minarets argue that these buildings represent a religious and political symbol of Islam's power, since the Koran does not provide for a separation of powers between religion and state.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of April 18, 1999 , SR 101, [1] .
  2. Häfelin / Haller, Swiss Federal State Law , p. 124, no. 406.
  3. ^ Animal Welfare Act of March 9, 1978 , SR 455, [2] , [3] .
  4. Criminal Code of December 21, 1937 , SR 311.0, [4] .
  5. Ticino says yes to the ban on veiling. In: TagesAnzeiger. September 22, 2013, accessed on September 23, 2013 (German).