The bill was proposed by the hardline Swiss People’s Party (SVP). MP Walter Wobmann called for a federal ban on veils and other face coverings in public places across Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
The Senate, however, decided that it is the responsibility of individual cantons and not the federal government to decide if a ban on face veil is necessary.
The senate also went on to say such a ban wasn’t necessary as very few people in Switzerland don the face veil. It could also hurt the country’s tourism, it added.
Speaking during the debate, Socialist Anita Fetz agreed with the commission, saying it wasn’t a widespread issue in Switzerland. “Even among tourists, cases are rare. I’ve seen perhaps two to three tourists entirely veiled in Basel in my whole life,” she said.
“There are probably more people who hike naked than wear the burqa,” said Andrea Caroni, who is a senator from Appenzell Ausserrhoden where naked hiking is in fact banned.
Wobmann has launched a petition to take the issue of the burqa ban to a referendum where the decision would be left up to the people. It needs 100,000 signatures by September.
He said banning the burqa was “not relevant at all” in Switzerland, where about five percent of its population — about 8.2 million people — are Muslim.
The supporters of the ban cite “security” concerns about the full-face covering. Opponents, however, say that national legislators should try to stay out of “the clothing closet.”
The Italian-speaking Ticino region in southern Switzerland has already imposed a ban on burqas.
Several European countries have also adopted restrictions on the Islamic clothing since 2000. France became the first European Union country to ban the public wearing of burqa in April 2011. A law took effect in Belgium in July that year that banned any clothing that obscured the identity of the wearer in public.
In the Netherlands, a proposed law banning burqas is awaiting approval by the senate. It was approved by the lower house of the Dutch parliament in November 2016.