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Switzerland: Referendum Bans Minarets

(Dec. 4, 2009) On November 29, 2009, the Swiss people approved a popular initiative that inserts into the Federal Constitution a new article 72, paragraph 3, that states, “[t]he construction of minarets is prohibited.” (Eidgenössische Volksinitiative 'Gegen den Bau von Minaretten,' Nov. 30, 2009, at Some 53.4% of the electorate voted on the initiative, which was approved by a 57.5% majority of the votes cast and also by a majority of the cantons. (Jan Herbermann, Schweiz verbietet Bau neuer Minarette, Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), Nov. 20, 2009, at 1, LEXIS/NEXIS, NEWS Library, ZEITNG File.)

The outcome of the popular initiative is an embarrassment for Swiss leaders who had hoped the Swiss would vote against this constitutional amendment. (Das Letzte Wort ist noch längst nicht gesprochen, NZZ Online, Dec. 1, 2009, available at
.) Human rights advocates, among them the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, view the initiative as discriminatory and divisive. (UN Rights Chief Says Swiss Ban on Minarets “Clearly Discriminatory,” Dec. 1, 2009, available at

Signatures for submitting the initiative to the people began to be collected on May 1, 2007, and more than the 100,000 signatures required had been collected by July 8, 2008. This in turn led the Swiss Cabinet to notify the Parliament and the people that the initiative was legal and would be placed before the people and the cantons for a vote. The Federal Cabinet, however, strongly recommended that the people should vote against this initiative. (Botschaft zur Volksinitiative “Gegen den Bau von Minaretten,” Aug. 27, 2008, Bundesblatt 7603, at The Swiss Federal Parliament communicated the same message on June 12, 2009. (Bundesbeschluss über die Volksinitiative “Gegen den Bau von Minaretten,” June 12, 2009, BUNDESBLATT 4381, at

The Swiss Federal Constitution provides in its article 139 that a popular initiative for an amendment of the Federal Constitution will be placed before the people if 100,000 voters request it and if it does not infringe on mandatory provisions of international law. Freedom of religion is guaranteed in article 15 of the Constitution, and article 72 provides that church and state relations are regulated by the cantons. (Bundesverfassung [Federal Constitution], Apr. 18, 1999, Systematische Sammlung des Bundesrechts, No. 101, at, English translation at