Living in Switzerland – Information and counselling online  

State and Religion

Religious neutrality of the state is an essential base for ensuring freedom of individual religion. At the federal level, Switzerland is therefore defined as a secular state. The Confederation does not maintain institutional relations with individual religious communities. The only exceptions are the chaplaincy of the army provided by the local religious community and the collaboration with ecclesiastic and Jewish organisations working on refugees issues and the right to asylum. The cantons are responsible for regulation of relations between state and religion.

The relationship between the religion and the State remain deeply rooted in Switzerland. Until the foundation of modern Switzerland in 1848, this relation between religious authorities and political authorities was very narrow in different Cantons.  The Catholic and Evangelical Reformed Churches were state churches in many Cantons.

Nowadays, the link between the two churches and the State is present in most Cantons. Only the Cantons of Geneva and Neuchatel apply a clear separation between the church and the State.

Christian churches are very active part in democratic decision-making in Switzerland. They are involved in human rights and engage in social or ethical positions. In the light of their own experience of religious freedom, they are also committed in recent years, in favour of religious tolerance towards people of other faiths.

Religious communities recognised by public law

 In Switzerland, the relationship between Church and State takes the form of recognition of religious communities as corporations under public law, known as State Churches:

The Catholic and Evangelical Reformed Churches are widely regarded public law (except in GE and  in NE).

The cantons of Zurich, Bern, Lucerne, Solothurn, Basel-Land, Basel-city, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen and Aargau also recognized the Catholic- Christian Church as Church of public law.
The cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Basel-City and St. Gallen also give the Jewish community a public law status.

The cantons of Zurich, Bern, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Glarus, Basel-Land, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Inner- Rhodes, Aargau, Ticino, Valais and Jura also give to other religious communities the opportunity to be recognized. Although the number of cantons with extended access to the recognition of public law in their constitution has increased, no community outside the Judeo-Christian spectrum has earned this recognition.

Right and duties related to the recognition

Different rights and duties are related to the recognition of public law. In addition to the right to collect taxes, state churches get easier access to public infrastructure (schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.).

Recognition of public law is also related to specific conditions. Are required: a form of democratic organization, the respect of the principle of state of law, the recognition of religious freedom and financial transparency.

Unrecognized religious communities

 

All unrecognized religions - including Muslim organizations, Hindu, Buddhist, Free Church, etc. - Are subject to private law. They must organize themselves into associations or foundations.

 

In addition to recognition as a public law corporation, the cantons of Zurich and Basel-City also predicts for particularly important religious communities, a simplified variant of the official recognition. In this case, religious communities are organized under private law, but have more sustained exchanges with state institutions and can perform specific tasks on behalf of the State. In the canton of Zurich, the Israelitische Cultusgemeinde and the  Jüdische Liberale Gemeinde are recognized in this way.

 


 

In this section: Bases of the recognition of public law

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