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Switzerland: Burqa Ban Voted Down

(Oct. 1, 2012) On September 28, 2012, the National Council, the lower house of the Swiss Parliament, voted down, by a narrow margin, a proposal to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public, including on public transportation. The 93-87 vote defeated a ban that would have applied to burqas, which are worn by some Muslim women. The proposal, which had been suggested by the Swiss canton (state) of Aargau, was championed by those who argued that it was a public safety measure and that the ban would promote gender equality. The ban was opposed by those who felt legislation on the subject was unnecessary, given the rarity of the wearing of the burqa in the country. (Swiss Lawmakers Reject Plan to Ban Burqas, BOSTON.COM (Sept. 28, 2012); Swiss Parliamentarians Reject Burqa Ban, Al Arabiya News (Sept. 28, 2012).)

Speaking against the ban, Hugues Hiltpold of the Free Democratic Partystated, “[t]he wearing of these kinds of garments for religious reasons does not pose real problems in daily life, since the practice is not very common in the Swiss Muslim community,” and he added that such a ban could give Muslim tourists visiting Switzerland a negative view of the country. (Swiss Parliamentarians Reject Burqa Ban, supra.)

The National Council left it to the individual cantons to decide whether to ban face covering in public demonstrations. (<?Id.)

A similar motion to ban face covering was considered in 2011 and passed the National Council by a vote of 101-77 (Session d’automne 2011 [Fall 2011 Session], Federal Assembly webpage (Sept. 28, 2011) [scroll down page to the date and, underneath it, “BURQA”]); that motion was rejected by the upper house. (Swiss Parliamentarians Reject Burqa Ban, supra.)

Switzerland at present has an estimated 400,000 Muslim residents, out of a general population of about 7.99 million. (Swiss Lawmakers Reject Plan to Ban Burqas, supra; Population and Household Statistics: Provisional Quarterly Data [for 2nd quarter of 2012], [Swiss] Bureau of Federal Statistics website (last visited Sept. 28, 2012).)