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Swiss Christians in disagreement over face covering ban referendum

Some say a ban would restrict religious freedom, others believe the equality of women and certain security issues are at stake.

AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus 03 DE FEBRERO DE 2021 10:14 h
Photo: [link]Rax Arn[/link], Unsplash CC0.

The Swiss will vote in March whether they approve a law that would no longer allow people to cover their face in public spaces such as shops, cultural venues or public transport.

It is one of the three issues on which citizens will have to vote with a 'yes' or a 'no'. The other two have to do with the regulation of internet IDs, and a commercial agreement with Indonesia.

The debate around face coverings is not new. It has strong links with the presence of conservative Muslim communities. But the growing arrival of tourists from Islamic countries has raised the profile of the conversation in recent years. Many believe ‘burkas’ a ‘niqabs’ should only be allowed in the private sphere.

Additionally, investigations into criminal actions by rioters and violent hooligans would also be easier if showing the face is mandatory, the proponents of the ban say.

If passed, the referendum initiative would only allow citizens to cover their face inside religious buildings. An exception would also be made in the case when there are security, health and weather reaons; or in traditional events such as carnival.

So fr, the ban had only been approved in 2 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. A ‘yes’ would turn it into national law.

Stop extremism, says the campaign asking for a yes in the referendum. / Verhüllungsverbot Facebook

[photo_footer]Stop extremism, says the campaign asking for a yes in the referendum. / Verhüllungsverbot Facebook [/photo_footer] 

In a preliminary vote in the federal Parliament, the political parties voted against the initiative (77 for, 113 against), and proposed an alternative rule that would make showing one’s face mandatory only when authorities specifically ask for it in identifications. This counter-initiative would be implemented if the ‘no’ wins.

Most parties say that a full ban would be “excessive”, having a “negative impact on tourism” and only “isolate [Muslim] women instead of helping them”.


The stance of evangelical Christians

The Swiss Evangelical Alliance (SEA) has issued a short document underlining what they believe are the main discussion points of the issue.

The SEA argues that covering one’s face is an obstacle for open “relationships between people”. “Seeing the face of others is not only the best way to identify the person but also to learn about their emotions”. Covering one’s face would make someone more suspicious of wanting to commit an illegal action.

The fact that in Islam only women are expected to cover their face points to a “discrimination”, a “symbol that puts women below men”, the evangelical body believes, but there is also a risk that a ban could lead to the unwanted consequence of “a complete retreat of these women to their homes”.

Religious freedom could be restricted for Muslims citizens and this is an important obstacle to support the initiative, the SEA says. But the entity also admits that political Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood have used face covering to promote their radical agenda.

Finally, the SEA has doubts about whether such a law is needed in Switzerland, because of the reduced numbers of Muslim women who cover their face. The country, they say, already prioritises the rights of women and equality in other laws.


Evangelical parties

Among the evangelical political parties, the EVP (3 national parlamentarians) uses similar arguments to recommend a free vote on this issue. In contrast, the EDU (1 national parliamentarian) has called to vote ‘yes’ to the ban.




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