ST. GALLEN – The canton of St Gallen in northeastern Switzerland has become the second in the European country to vote in favor of banning burqa in public in a referendum held on Sunday, September 23.
Sixty-seven percent of the electorates in the German-speaking canton supported a law that allows police to fine anyone covering their face in public, Swiss Info reported.
The rule will apply to Muslim women covering their face on religious grounds and anyone “threatening public safety or the religious and societal peace,” including demonstrators.
Voter turnout was 36 percent, according to the cantonal government.
A suggestion to ban burqa across the country was opposed by the government. Yet, it said that individual cantons maintain authority on the matter.
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St. Gallen’s parliament had originally passed the ban last November by a two-vote majority.
The Young Greens, Young Socialist Party as well as the Young Green Liberals subsequently proposed a referendum on the grounds that the law restricts individual freedom and clearly targets Muslim women, stoking xenophobia.
Voters across Switzerland are however expected to be called to vote on the issue next year after the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum as part of Switzerland’s famous direct democratic system.
The text of the new law stipulates that “any person who renders themselves unrecognizable by covering their face in a public space and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined.”
The law is seen as mostly targeting the burqa and the niqab, worn by some Muslim women including veils that more or less completely cover the face for reasons of perceived modesty.
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 not obliged to cover her face or hands.
Scholars, however, believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover their faces.