Centre party joins the religious freedom debate

Gerhard Pfister speaks at the party summer meeting on Saturday Keystone

The centrist Christian Democratic Party has become the latest political party in Switzerland to call for a discussion about religious freedom and Swiss values.

This content was published on August 20, 2016 - 15:45
swissinfo.ch and agencies

At the party’s summer meeting on Saturday in Appenzell, leader Gerhard Pfister said that a debate about values had to take place. It was only right to do so in this time of terror attacks in Europe, the migration crisis and the attacks on “the western way of life”.

We have been too tolerant of people who want intolerance, Pfister added. Those who seek protection in Switzerland, will still receive it, but “whoever wants protection but doesn’t respect our values, should find a country of protection that fits better with his own values”.

The Christian Democrats must take a position for a “Christian-based western society and its rule of law”, continued Pfister.

The conservative right Swiss People’s Party - Switzerland’s largest party - also holding its summer meeting on Saturday, is better known for its hard line on these issues. In his opening speech, leader Albert Rösti spoke of the need to maintain Swiss values and to have a tough asylum policy.

There are also signs of a shift in tone at the other end of the political spectrum. The leftwing Social Democratic Party, for example, appears divided over the question of a nationwide burka ban in Switzerland.

Currently signatures are being collected for an initiative that calls for such a move. Italian-speaking canton Ticino is the only place where a burka ban is in force.

Left split

There was surprise when Social Democratic Zurich politician Mario Fehr, who is head of the city’s security department, added his voice to calls for burkas to be outlawed. “I am a liberal person and in a liberal society everyone shows their face,” he told the NZZ newspaper on August 11. This includes tourists, he said.

The Ticino ban experience was “interesting”, he said. It signaled that foreigners were welcome but that they must show their faces in a particular canton or country.

“This is the custom, just like when you shake a female teacher’s hand in school,” Fehr added, referring to a case in canton Basel Country where two teenage Muslims brothers had refused to do so. 

Fehr saw his opinion as part of a debate about “what the value system in Switzerland allowed and what it didn’t”.

But the party’s co-head of women Natascha Weg has come out against a ban. She argued that the call was a “side issue”. “There are hardly any burka wearers in Switzerland. As a liberal person I have a problem with bans like these,” she told the Blick newspaper.

The issue is also currently being debated across Europe. On Friday Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, has called for a partial ban on the burka, a day after saying a full ban might not be constitutional. France was the first European country to stop the wearing of the full-face Islamic veil in public places.

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