Switzerland Catholic Church and other religious groups have announced their opposition to a proposed ban on burqas or niqab, saying it violates religious rights.
“Covering the body due to religious conviction … constitutes an external symbol of worshipping God,” the bishops’ conference said in a joint statement with the Swiss Council of Religions.
The bishops stressed that freedom “to choose and shape ways of life, lifestyles and orientations” was a core value of Switzerland’s liberal democracy, adding that they would reject “all ideologically and socio-politically motivated attempts” to interfere with constitutionally protected religious expressions,” Catholic Philly reported.
Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish leaders also signed the statement.
The Swiss will vote on whether they want to ban full facial coverings in public on March 7, when they will also vote on a range of other issues as part of the country’s direct democratic system.
The text of the proposed ban does not mention Muslim veils explicitly, stating only that “no one shall cover their face in public, nor in areas accessible to the public or in areas where services are ordinarily accessible to all”.
But the proposal, which has been opposed by the Swiss government, is widely seen as targeting niqabs, burqas and other face-covering veils worn by some Muslim women.
The church and religious leaders said that the burqa was worn by very few Muslim women in Switzerland, who would face “two conflicting forms of pressure: the religious requirement to cover the face and compulsion exerted by the state to refrain.”
“The concealment of female identity in the public sphere is frequently viewed as expressing gender inequality. This perception is not, however, shared by all women concerned,” the statement said.
“This initiative claims to have public security as a goal. In reality, it is directed toward an exceedingly small minority of the population and does not resolve any problems.”
The Swiss government also urged people earlier this month to reject the proposal, saying the move would hurt tourism.
In 2009 Swiss voters backed a proposal to ban the construction of new minarets.
Two-thirds of Switzerland’s 8.5 million residents identify as Christians. But its Muslim population has risen to 5%, largely because of Balkans Muslim immigrants.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not just a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
As for the face veil, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that a woman is free to cover or show her face or hands.
Scholars, however, believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover their faces.