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La liberté religieuse en Suisse

The history of religious freedom in Switzerland dates back over a century, and to understand the origins of this fundamental freedom here, one must go back to the wars of religion. Between the 15th century, which saw the advent of Protestantism, and the 19th century, Switzerland was torn by interreligious conflict. They ended with the Sonderbund War in 1847, which pitted Catholic and Protestant cantons against each other. At the end of this war, in 1848, the state enshrined freedom of worship in the national constitution. However, this only applied to Christian Churches and not to other communities, notably the Jews.

It was not until 1974 that freedom of worship was guaranteed to all religious communities in Article 49 of the constitution. On the same date, powers to manage religious matters were devolved to the Cantons, a provision still in force today (see the general presentation of the legal status of religions in Switzerland).

These arrangements were reinforced by constitutional revisions in 1999, which came into force in 2000. Article 15 of the constitution now guarantees freedom of conscience and belief :
Art. 15 : “(1) Freedom of conscience and belief is guaranteed. (2) All individuals are entitled to freely choose their religion, form philosophical beliefs, and profess these individually or in a community. (3) All individuals are entitled to join or belong to a religious community and to receive religious education. (4) No-one may be compelled to join or belong to a religious community, to perform religious acts, or to receive religious education.”

This article was drafted not only on the basis of previous provisions but also on the basis of international conventions signed by Switzerland (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights ; see the Humanrights website, Swiss human rights portal).

Finally, it should be noted that freedom of conscience and belief may be restricted under the conditions laid down in Article 36 of the constitution, namely : existence of a legal basis, justification on the grounds of public interest or protection of others’ fundamental rights, proportionality to the purpose of the restriction and preservation of the inviolable essence of this fundamental right.

D 18 janvier 2017    AAnaïd Lindemann

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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