Switzerland’s Federal Court has overturned two decisions by local assemblies to refuse citizenship on the grounds of women wearing a religious veil. Muslim organisations welcomed the rulings, which were announced on Wednesday, as a “step forward”. Under the Swiss federal system, communities also have a say on naturalisation issues.
The court ruling came after two local assemblies in canton Aargau, in northern Switzerland, rejected applications for Swiss citizenship by a Turkish woman and a Bosnian couple last year. Objectors said the veil was a sign of inequality between men and women and was therefore unconstitutional.
But Switzerland’s highest court found that wearing a veil was an expression of religious beliefs, which are protected under the Swiss constitution. The veil in itself was not a sign of the debasement of women, the judges wrote. The court urged citizens to look beyond their prejudices and said the fact that a Muslim woman wore a veil did not mean she was flouting the basic values of Swiss society.
Local decisions on citizenship applications have been a controversial issue over the past few years. Swiss citizens are due to vote on an initiative that aims to enshrine communities’ right to decide on naturalisation requests in the constitution. Launched by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, it demands that voters be free to decide on how to proceed on citizenship questions and that appeals against negative decisions be no longer possible.