The Swiss Council of Religions, which groups Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, has issued a statement rejecting a call for the country to ban the construction of minarets at mosques.
"For the members of a religious community, religious buildings are not only places to gather but also a symbol of their faith and an expression of their reverence for God. For many Muslims, therefore, mosques need to have minarets," the Council stated in a five-page declaration published on 2 September 2009.
"The prohibition of minarets would injure these people in their dignity and their basic right to practise their religion," the Council warned.
The initiative to ban the construction of minarets was submitted on 8 July 2008 with just under 115,000 signatures and will be voted on by Swiss citizens in a national referendum on 29 November this year.
If passed, the measure would amend the country's Federal Constitution to include a new article stating that, "The construction of minarets is prohibited".
The statement by the religions' Council is the first time the national body, composed of Jews, Christians and Muslims, has issued a joint statement about a matter being voted on by Swiss citizens, said the Council at a 2 September press conference in the Swiss capital Bern.
"Cultural diversity is a characteristic of Swiss identity. It makes Switzerland strong," the Swiss Protestant news agency ProtestInfo quoted the Rev Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and of the religions' Council, as saying.
The Council said it is committed to protecting religious peace in Switzerland and that the initiative to ban the building of minarets would bring about precisely the opposite.
"Everyone has the right in this country to live their faith visibly, freely and in a community within the framework of the public order," it stated. "This also includes the construction of places of worship that are typical for their respective religion."
The full Council of Religions statement (in *.PDF format) can be found here: http://www.sek-feps.ch/media/pdf/SCR/090902_SCR_Minarettinitiative_en.pdf
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]