GENEVA — Switzerland will hold a nationwide referendum on banning the construction of minarets, towers attached to mosques, despite opposition from churches and the government.
"[Minarets] symbolized a political-religious claim to power, which challenges fundamental rights," said the committee spearheading an initiative to ban the minarets construction in Switzerland, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, July 8.
"One which, as it is the case in Islam, places religion above the state, and which completely contradicts the federal constitution."
The committee, led by the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP), has collected nearly 115,000 signatures; enough to force a nationwide vote on the minarets ban.
Under Swiss law, the electorate can request a popular vote if it manages to collect 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters for the initiative.
No date has been set for the referendum.
If it is approved, the Swiss parliament must pass a law enshrining a construction ban in the constitution.
The SVP, which campaigns to protect Christian values and Swiss traditions from strange cultures, claimed that minarets are a symbol of power and threaten law and order in Switzerland.
There are currently only two minarets in Switzerland, in both Zurich and Geneva.
The Muslim call to prayer is not raised from these minarets.
Last November, the Administrative Court in the canton of Solothurn upheld a project to build a mosque with a minaret in the northern town of Wangen.
It ruled that plans to add a six-meter minaret to a prayer center respected existing and relevant laws.
The minaret ban has drawn fire from Swiss churches and the government.
"Polarization is a bad thing," said the Federation of Churches in Switzerland.
"We should be working on integration."
The ruling Federal Council urged voters to reject the minaret ban.
It would "without a doubt be recommending that parliament and the electorate vote against the initiative," it said in a statement.
The Council said that the initiative did not originate from the government or the parliament but that it was "launched by a group of private individuals".
President Pascal Couchepin said the government will recommend that voters reject the proposed ban.
Several other members of Switzerland's cross-party government have already spoken out against the ban.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said that the government would oppose the text as it went against the constitution.
Former federal judge Giusep Nay had also appealed to parliament not to allow a popular vote as the initiative violated religious freedom.
There are about 340,000 Muslims in Switzerland, which has a population of 7.4 million.
Forty-three percent of the Muslim minority are of Turkish origin. Islam is the second religion in the country after Christianity.