Switzerland’s New ‘Burqa Ban’ Divides Voters, Including Evangelicals

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Officially neutral, Swiss Evangelical Alliance says “relationship to Muslims and support for religious freedom” is now more important than “restrictions to ensure our peaceful coexistence.”

In a vote that divided Switzerland’s evangelical community, voters narrowly approved on Sunday a referendum to ban face coverings. The new law includes both the niqabs and burqas worn by a few Muslim women in the country, and the ski masks and bandanas used by protesters.

One of two political parties with ties to the Swiss evangelical community supported the Yes vote. The other took no position. The state-affiliated Swiss Reformed and Roman Catholic churches supported the No vote.

After initially supporting the measure, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance (SEA), which represents about 250,000 believers across 650 churches and 230 member organizations, instead issued an orientation paper outlining both the pro and con positions.

“Showing each other our faces … promotes trust and security,” the alliance stated. “But there are legitimate questions if prohibition would restrict religious freedom.”

The measure will outlaw covering one’s face in public places such as restaurants, sports stadiums, public transport, or simply walking in the street. It foresees exceptions at religious sites and for security or health reasons, such as face masks people are wearing now to protect against COVID-19, as well as for traditional Carnival celebrations. Authorities have two years to draw up detailed legislation.

Two Swiss cantons, or states, Ticino and St. Gallen, already have similar legislation that foresees fines for transgressions. National legislation will put Switzerland in line with countries such as Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures.

The Swiss government had opposed the measure as excessive, arguing that full-face coverings are a “marginal phenomenon.” It argued …

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