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Switzerland: privileges for the Churches despite secularisation of society

Increase of the number of non-believers

The report of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office of June 13, 2023 on the evolution of religious beliefs and behaviours indicates once again, to the great regret of the dominant churches, a profound trend towards an increase in the number of people declaring themselves non-believers and non-denominational in Switzerland. In view of these recent figures, the committee of the Swiss Association of Free Thought and in particular its French-speaking section, the Libre Pensée romande, have issued a joint press release to the Swiss media.

This position paper of a political nature presents the point of view of the Swiss Free Thought on the reality of the various and multiple forms of social, moral and financial discrimination and clandestine proselytising that are still taking place against non-believers through the granting of numerous subsidies to the two dominant churches. Induced discrimination through the constitutional and concordant legal bases of the cantons, for the support of all populations in moral and psychosocial matters.

Financial privileges for the Churches

The Swiss cantonal constitutions (with the exception of the canton of Geneva and part of the canton of Neuchâtel) still favour the dominant churches, to the detriment of non-believers and their representative associations. The dominant churches are the only entities of public and moral interest recognised for the moral or spiritual needs of the population of the cantons! It should be remembered that in Switzerland, through federalism and the principle of regional political subsidiarity, the cantons are sovereign entities in religious matters, with their own government, administration and parliament. The latter legislate by themselves on the granting of these subsidies, via taxes, making it possible in particular, abusively from our Freethought point of view, to pay the salaries of church workers, youth support programmes, spiritual assistance in collective living environments by church workers, the running of military and university chaplaincies, without granting the equivalent or compensation to secularist associations and their representatives or those of non-religious philosophical convictions!

The Swiss Free Thought movement therefore had to react in a clear-cut manner to these new statistical data and inertia and denial on the part of elected politicians on these issues. This press release also considers a linear regression projection predicting that non-believers will outnumber those affiliated to the dominant religions in Switzerland in 2032.

Rampant proselytism

We also interpret the various recent “social and cultural” offers from the dominant churches in Switzerland as new marketing “products” aimed at providing psychosocial and cultural assistance to the entire Swiss population. For example, new support services in which they would have front-line expertise for psychological crises, for the psychosocial supervision of youth movements, for offers of moral counselling and helping hands all over the place, for the development of compulsory courses in religious studies in the new programme for students in Swiss secondary schools…

We see all these official offers from the dominant churches, made through the press, as clandestine attempts to recuperate and regain control in the face of their loss of influence with the population. 

The vigilance of the Free Thought and the secular movements in Switzerland is only exacerbated, in a context where we face a largely asymmetrical balance of power and this on very many levels, as the dominant churches are very powerfully structured and active in Switzerland, and largely subsidized by the public authorities on anachronistic legal bases.  

Free Thought of French-speaking cantons and of Switzerland