FRIBOURG, Switzerland, DEC. 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Swiss bishops are expressing concern over a referendum vote that resulted in the banning of minarets — the tall spires that constitute a distinctive architectural feature of mosques.
In a communiqué published Sunday, the Swiss bishops’ conference stated that the people’s decision to prohibit the construction of minarets in the country, approved that same day, “represents an obstacle and a great challenge on the path of integration in dialogue and mutual respect.”
The communiqué, signed by the conference’s director of communications, Walter Muller, affirmed that this ban implies “a manifest omission to show the people that the prohibition of minarets does not contribute to a healthy coexistence between religions and cultures but, on the contrary, it deteriorates it.”
“The campaign, with its exaggerations and caricatures, demonstrated that religious peace does not happen on its own, but must be defended every day,” the conference noted.
The bishops warned that the initiative, driven by the conservative Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union, “increases the problems of coexistence between religions and cultures.”
In the referendum, more than 57% of the voters decided to include in the Swiss Constitution the prohibition against constructing minarets.
Given the result, “the first challenge is to give back to the population the necessary confidence in our juridical ordering and appropriate attention to the interests of all,” stated the bishops.
And “this calls for the collaboration of all in Switzerland, especially the authorities of the State and of the Church,” they continued.
At present Switzerland has four minarets, which are not currently used in the traditional Muslim “call to prayer.” The referendum sought to halt new construction projects of these mosques towers, though the current minarets will be left intact.
The country, in which Islam is the second religion after Christianity in the number of followers, has some 310,000 Muslims, in a population of 7.5 million inhabitants.
The bishops point out that “the difficulties of coexistence between religions and cultures are not limited to Switzerland,” and they warned about the negative repercussions that this popular decision might have in other parts of the world.
Before the vote, they reminded citizens that the prohibition of minarets “would not help oppressed and persecuted Christians in Muslim countries, but rather would deteriorate the credibility of their commitment in those countries.”
The text ends with an exhortation “to all persons of good will to increase still more their present commitment to those Christians and to be by their side.”
In a communiqué last September, in which the bishops opposed the popular consultation approved yesterday, the conference requested consistency with the principles of religious liberty.
“The minarets, like the bell towers of churches, are a sign of the public presence of a religion,” the Swiss bishops affirmed at that time.
They added, “The general prohibition to construct minarets would make more fragile the necessary efforts to establish an attitude of reciprocal acceptance, in dialogue and mutual respect. In this matter, fear is a poor adviser.”