Monday, November 30, 2009

No freedom of religion in Switzerland

Switzerland has voted in a referendum to ban minarets. I am simply appalled. This is an outright attack on freedom of religion, specifically the freedom of Muslims to build religious buildings, and if it was reversed and applied to e.g. church spires, people would instantly recognise this.

The good news is that Switzerland is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which affirms freedom of religion. The Convention is legally binding and enforceable on its members through the European Court of Human Rights, and it is difficult to see how the ban could survive a legal challenge. OTOH, the Court has previously upheld a Turkish law banning headscarves, so they may simply decide that allowing Christians but not Muslims to express their faith in architecture is within the "margin of appreciation" granted to states, and effectively piss on the document they are supposed to be enforcing.

This is also a perfect example of how citizens initiated referenda can be used by a majority to victimise and oppress a minority, and a strong argument for building human rights safeguards into any system of binding referenda.