Swiss Vote to Ban Face Coverings

Measure covers burqas as well as protesters' masks and bandannas
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 7, 2021 1:00 PM CST
Swiss Approve Banning Burqas
A poster supporting the initiative "Yes to a ban on covering the face" is displayed at the village of Buochs, Switzerland, last month.   (Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP)

Voters in Switzerland on Sunday narrowly approved a proposal to ban face coverings, both the niqabs and burqas worn by a few Muslim women in the country and the ski masks and bandannas used by protesters. The measure will outlaw covering one's face in public places like restaurants, sports stadiums, public transport, or simply while walking in the street. It foresees exceptions at religious sites and for security or health reasons, such as face masks people are wearing now to protect against COVID-19, as well as for traditional Carnival celebrations. Authorities have two years to draw up detailed legislation, the AP reports. Two Swiss cantons, or states, Ticino, and St. Gallen, already have similar legislation that foresees fines for transgressions. National legislation will put Switzerland in line with countries such as Belgium and France that have enacted similar measures.

The government had opposed the measure as excessive, arguing that full-face coverings are a "marginal phenomenon." It said the ban could harm tourism—most Muslim women who wear such veils in Switzerland are visitors from Persian Gulf states. Experts estimate that at most a few dozen Muslim women wear full-face coverings in the country of 8.5 million people. Supporters of the proposal, which came to a vote five years after it was launched, argued that the full-face coverings symbolize the repression of women and said the measure is needed to uphold a basic principle that faces should be shown in a free society like Switzerland's. In the end, 51.2% of voters supported the plan. A coalition of left-leaning parties that opposed the proposal put up signs ahead of the referendum that read: "Absurd. Useless. Islamophobic."

(Read more Switzerland stories.)

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