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Switzerland - Religion

The country has a total area of 15,942 square miles, and its population is an estimated 7.21 million. Three-quarters of the population nominally adhere to either the Roman Catholic or the Protestant Church, the two predominant denominations, but actual church attendance rates are much lower. The Muslim population is the largest religious minority, making up approximately 4 percent of the resident population. Over 11 percent of citizens claim no formal allegiance to any church or religious community.

The breakdown between the different religious denominations has shifted noticeably over the past several years. Traditionally, over 95 percent of the population had been split evenly between the Protestant and the Roman Catholic Church, but since the 1970s, there has been a steady increase of persons formally renouncing their church membership. In the Roman Catholic Church, immigration from southern Europe has countered this trend. The arrival of immigrants from other areashas contributed to the noticeable growth of religious communities that had little presence in the country in the past. According to the Government's Statistics Office, membership in religious denominations is as follows: 41.8 percent Roman Catholic; 33.0 percent Protestant; 1.8 percent Orthodox; 0.2 percent Old Catholic; 0.2 percent other Christian groups; 4.3 percent Muslim; 0.2 percent Jewish; 0.8 percent other religions (Buddhist, Hindi, and other); 11.1 percent no formal creed.

Approximately three-quarters of the Jewish households are located in the urban areas of four major cities: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Bern. There are four distinguishable Jewish subgroups: Orthodox; conservative; liberal; and reformists. About 15 percent of Jews belong to the Orthodox branch.

The debate over the country's World War II record contributed to the problem of anti-Semitism. To counter anti-Semitism and racism, the Federal Department of the Interior set up, in 2002, a Federal Service for the Combating of Racism to coordinate antiracism activities of the Federal Administration with cantonal and communal authorities. This Federal Service has a budget of $11.1 million (15 million Swiss francs) to use over a 5-year period. Of this money, $370,000 (500,000 Swiss francs) per year was reserved for the establishment of new local consultation centers where victims of racial or religious discrimination may seek assistance. Approximately 130 of these consultation centers or contact points already exist in the country. In addition the Federal Service for the Combating of Racism sponsors and manages a variety of projects to combat racism, including some projects specifically addressing the problem of anti-Semitism.

According to official statistics, the Muslim population has doubled to more than 310,000 over the past several years, but independent sources believe an additional 150,000 Muslims may be residing illegally in the country. Muslim immigrants from North African countries typically settled in the French-speaking western part of the country, whereas those arriving from Turkey, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia commonly relocated in the German-speaking eastern and central parts. There are only two major mosques, one in Zurich (built in 1963 and belonging to the Ahmadayyia movement) and one in Geneva (built in 1978 and financed by Saudi Arabia). There are approximately 120 Muslim centers located throughout the country in private homes or office complexes.

There is no official state church; religious matters are handled by the cantons, according to Article 72 of the Constitution. Most of the 26 cantons (with the exception of Geneva and Neuchatel, where church and religion are separated) financially support at least one of the three traditional denominations--Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Protestant--with funds collected through taxation. Each canton has its own regulations regarding the relationship between Church and State. In some cantons, the church tax is voluntary, but in others an individual who chooses not to contribute to church tax may have to leave the church formally. In some cantons, private companies are unable to avoid payment of the church tax. Some cantons grant "church taxation" status, which the traditional three Christian denominations enjoy, to the Jewish community. Islamic and other nonofficial religious groups are excluded from these benefits.

In November 2003, voters in Zurich rejected an amendment to the cantonal constitution that would have provided for the recognition of nontraditional religious communities and allowed them to levy a tax on their members and to receive public funds. According to a local polling institute, the main reason for the amendment's defeat at the polls was its provisions for granting Islam recognition as an official religion under cantonal law. The debates on a reform of the relations between Church and State, as well as the official recognition of the Jewish community, continue in the context of the ongoing complete revision of the Zurich cantonal constitution.

Religious education is taught in most public cantonal schools, with the exception of Geneva and Neuchatel. The doctrine generally depends on which religion predominates in the particular canton, but some schools cover other religious groups living in the country. A new religious tutorial printed in Lausanne in the fall of 2003 and distributed to French-speaking primary schools in Fribourg, Bern, Wallis, and Jura created controversy among Roman Catholic parliamentarians in the canton of Wallis because it presented Christianity and Islam on an equal footing. The local section of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) criticized the book's version of Islam because it did not mention radical Muslim practices such as Shari'a and stoning.

The Swiss Observatory of Religions based in Lausanne believes that anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic feelings have increased over the last decade. Although physical violence was rare, most anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks have largely been fueled by extensive media reports over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Holocaust Assets issue, and terrorist acts by Muslim extremists in foreign countries. The few journalists that engaged in anti-Zionist rhetoric later apologized. Nevertheless, other xenophobic and revisionist publications exist, sometimes using Internet web sites based in the United States to avoid prosecution.

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Page last modified: 17-11-2011 19:25:41 ZULU