Zurich says no to more religions

Prayer at a mosque in Zurich Keystone

Proposed new laws that would have led to the official recognition of non-Christian faiths, including Islam, have been turned down in canton Zurich.

This content was published on November 30, 2003 - 19:53

Some 64 per cent of voters said no to recognising faiths other than the three official religions in the canton.

Markus Notter from the Zurich cantonal government – which only recognises the Protestant, Roman Catholic and the Old Catholic Churches – called the outcome of the vote "regrettable".

He added that good relations with the Jewish and Muslim communities would continue, despite the vote.

The proposed legislation was strongly opposed by members of the canton Zurich branch of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and the centre-right Radicals.

René Zihlmann, president of the Swiss Roman Catholic Commission, said people voted no on Sunday mainly because of an inflammatory campaign ran by the People’s Party ahead of the poll.


Zihlmann said the party's drive against the vote instilled a climate of fear and misunderstanding about religious practices.

The People's Party claimed that cantonal contributions - which are given to all recognised religions - would be used by Muslims for fundamentalist religious teaching.

Funding for recognised religions is intended to support services that are of use to society as a whole, and from which non-members might also benefit.

The three recognised Churches and the country’s anti-racism commission heavily criticised the campaign.

They say they have maintained a constructive dialogue with the city’s Jewish and Muslim communities for many years.

Religious recognition

A study by the anti-racism commission has shown that the country’s 26 cantons differ greatly in their recognition of religions.

Some, such as Bern, Basel City, St Gallen and Fribourg, have already recognised the Jewish religion. Others only recognise Christian Churches.

Only in cantons Geneva and Neuchâtel are all religions treated the same. Other cantons have so far rejected such a move.

Notter says that the rejection will almost certainly result in the official recognition of the Protestant, Roman Catholic and the Old Catholic Churches being called into question, and renewed public debate on the separation of Church and State.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

According to 2000 figures, 75% of people in Switzerland belong to one of the state religions – Protestant or Catholic.
10% belong to other religious communities.
State financing of churches in canton Zurich amounts to SFr50 million.
In 2000, 39.9% in Zurich were Protestant, 30.5% Roman Catholic, 5.3% Muslim, 2.4% Christian Orthodox, 0.5% Jewish.

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