In The Wall Street Journal, Brian Blackstone reports that voters in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen have elected to ban burqa-like face coverings from public spaces. He writes (abridged):
Voters in northeast Switzerland voted Sunday to ban burqa-like, face-covering veils in public.
St. Gallen joined Ticino, in the southern, Italian-speaking part of the country, in banning the wearing of face-covering veils.
About two-thirds of voters in St. Gallen approved the ban with voter turnout at about 36%.
The regional government, which had opposed the ban, now must implement the policy. Switzerland’s right–wing Swiss People’s party, which supported it, said it was pleased with Sunday’s results.
Though St. Gallen only has a population of about 400,000, Sunday’s results show that the controversy over head coverings still resonates in a country where these types of conflicts are less prevalent than in other countries in Europe. The issue has sparked deeper divisions in France, for instance.
Muslims make up around 5% of Switzerland’s 8.5 million population.
Still, under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, which sets a very reachable bar for referendums, divisive cultural issues can come to regional or national vote. An initiative only needs 100,000 votes to qualify for a national referendum.
In 2009, the Swiss voted to ban the construction of new minarets on mosques.
Read more here.