Non-religious people in Swiss religious constitutional law

On June 17, 2022, experts and interested parties met at the University of Fribourg to hold a workshop to discuss the status of non-religious people in Swiss religious constitutional law. The workshop was also streamed via zoom.

After an introduction by Prof. René Pahud de Mortanges, Prof. Jörg Stolz lectured on how secularization is progressing and what the statistics indicate about non-religious people. An important finding was that secularization proceeds through cohort replacement – religiosity is largely retained within the cohorts. Prof. Stolz concluded that, according to the statistics, those without a religious denomination are predominantly young, educated, urban and not very religiously socialized. In his subsequent presentation, Dr. Pascal Tanner showed how secularism is organized in Switzerland. The Freethinkers Association of Switzerland is an important player due to its size, age and continuity. It calls for the strict separation of church and state. However, non-religious people are not to be equated with freethinking, even if they may have similar goals.

The first legal input was provided by PD Dr. Lorenz Engi, who presented the status and perspectives of the non-religious people in religious constitutional law. Dr. Engi stated that non-religious people have influenced the development of the law. He also highlighted ambiguities regarding the term "philosophical convictions". Dr. Engi called for the non-religious people to be taken into account in religious legal and political considerations, although this consideration has its limits, since the non-religious people do not share a common world view and are not organized. In his statement, former federal judge Dr. Peter Karlen asked to what extent it is the task of the state to satisfy the needs of the non-religious people (e.g. in education and health care). He is of the opinion that the state has only very limited responsibility in this area, since it is not allowed to represent ethics due to the requirement of neutrality. A liberal legal order must therefore leave as much room as possible for the development of a religious life, whereby this goal can be achieved by reducing rather than expanding religious law. In the second legal input of the workshop, Prof. Andreas Stöckli examined the negative freedom of religious financing. According to him, the levying of taxes for services to society as a whole by the religious communities is permissible. In addition, he is of the opinion that legal entities without a religious purpose may invoke their negative freedom of religion. Particularly if the legal entity has a high personal connection (e.g. one-person company limited by shares). For mixed-faith marriages and families, Prof. Stöckli proposes individual taxation so that the non-believer or person of another faith is protected in their negative freedom of religion. In his statement, Prof. Markus Müller suggested rethinking the relationship between positive and negative freedom of religion. Instead of focusing on the negative freedom of religion and elevating it to a supreme fundamental right, the social benefits of religious communities should be taken into account when it comes to the question of religious taxes.

Using the example of humanistic pastoral care in the Netherlands, Prof. Hans Alma illustrated what an alternative to religious pastoral care in state institutions could look like. She showed that the following four factors have favored the establishment of non-religious pastoral care in the Netherlands: (1) A strong philosophical foundation, (2) a pillared structure of society that leaves room for other, non-religious pastoral care offers, (3) legal Foundations for pastoral care in state institutions and (4) a state-financed humanistic university, in which appropriate training can be completed. In her statement, Dr. Esther Straub explained what steps would have to be taken – in particular in the canton of Zurich– to enable pastoral care in public institutions for non-religious communities. There is currently no legal basis for this and no secure funding. It is important for Dr. Straub that the status of the pastor as a third party is not jeopardized. Pastoral discussions should continue to take place in a protected setting and outside of therapy. Prof. René Pahud de Mortanges lectured on the topics of neutrality and opening up religious education in schools. Competences in the field of religion and philosophical convictions are taught today as part of the compulsory school curriculum. There are recognizable efforts to teach these skills as neutrally, openly and inclusively as possible. The opening of denominational religious education in school premises to other religious communities and non-religious people remains to be discussed. In her statement, Dr. Stephanie Bernet emphasized the well-being of the child, which must be given special consideration when schools deal with religious freedom. She also found that educational content is more important today than it used to be. Finally, the educational content also serves to promote tolerance and prevention of sexual assaults and religious sects.

After each presentation, there was a lively discussion between the workshop participants. A concluding discussion was held at the end of the day to clarify remaining questions. The lectures and statements of the workshop will be published in written form. This publication will be supplemented by contributions from other participants.