Religious leaders oppose Swiss ban on minarets

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GENEVA (RNS/ENI) The Swiss Council of Religions, which includes Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, has issued a statement rejecting a call for a nationwide ban on the construction of minarets at mosques. Some Swiss groups want to ban minarets out of fear of Europe’s growing Muslim population.

“For the members of a religious community, religious buildings are not only places to gather but also a symbol of their faith and an expression of their reverence for God. For many Muslims, therefore, mosques need to have minarets,” the council said in a 5-page statement issued Wednesday (Sept. 2).

“The prohibition of minarets would injure these people in their dignity and their basic right to practice their religion,” the council warned.

The move to ban the construction of minarets was submitted in July 2008 with just under 115,000 signatures, and will be decided in a national referendum on Nov. 29.

If passed, the measure would amend the country’s Federal Constitution to include a new article stating that, “The construction of minarets is prohibited.”

The statement by the Council of Religions is the first time the national body has issued a joint statement about a national referendum, council leaders said in Bern.

The Swiss Protestant news agency ProtestInfo quoted the Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and a member of the religions council, saying, “Cultural diversity is a characteristic of Swiss identity. It makes Switzerland strong.”

The council said it is committed to protecting religious peace in Switzerland, and that the initiative to ban the building of minarets would cause dissension.

“Everyone has the right in this country to live their faith visibly, freely and in a community within the framework of the public order,” it stated. “This also includes the construction of places of worship that are typical for their respective religions.”

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