Swiss Minarets Ban Prompts Neutrality Questions, Talk of Rollback

BY Larisa Epatko  December 11, 2009 at 2:13 PM EDT

A majority of the Swiss people voted Nov. 29 to block the construction of minarets, tall spires typically associated with Islamic mosques. The move raised questions about Switzerland’s historic tolerance and prompted criticism from some in the international community.

The conservative Swiss People’s Party campaigned for the ban, saying the minarets were a sign of the political Islamization of Switzerland. “The Islamic religion is intolerant, but we do not want to limit freedom of religion, we want to outlaw the political symbol,” said one of the party’s members Ulrich Schluer on the Web site swissinfo.ch.

The referendum ended up passing with 57 percent of the vote.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called the ban “discriminatory” and the Vatican backed a statement by the Swiss bishops’ conference saying the vote “increases the problems of coexistence between religions and cultures.”

Switzerland’s government also had come out against the referendum. After the vote, the Federal Council issued a statement saying the outcome “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies, which reject our national traditions and which could disregard our legal order.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that a group of Swiss intellectuals is drafting a plan to reverse the ban.

Our partners at GlobalPost filed this report by Ben Barnier on reactions within the country:

Updated 5 p.m. ET…
Marco Werman of PRI’s The World interviews a local businessman in Lausanne who decided to protest the ban by erecting a gold-topped minaret on one of his buildings: Download MP3