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Rapid increase in secularism in Switzerland: politicians must act now

From Lisa Arnold

Lisa is Head of Communications at the Freethinkers Association of Switzerland. In this article, she writes that, despite the rapid increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated people in Switzerland, this demographic is hardly represented in politics today.

According to the latest figures from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO), 32.3 per cent of the Swiss population describe themselves as having 'no religious affiliation'. A further 36.6 per cent formally belong to a religion, but describe themselves as neither religious nor spiritual. In view of the rapid decline in the importance of religion, the Freethinkers Association of Switzerland (FVS) has called for a consistently secular policy at all levels.

The blue shading indicates the inexorable growth in the 'No religious affiliation' population

The non-religious are in the fast lane: no worldview group is growing as strongly as the people without religious affiliation. Especially in view of the fact that the population without religion is generally rather younger, this population group is becoming increasingly more relevant. They also have a higher level of education and tend to live in urban areas. In 2032, there will be more people in Switzerland without religious affiliation than Reformed and Catholics combined. But this secular part of the population is hardly represented in politics today.

Secular politics

Politicians who publicly declare their support for religious freedom are very rare. Yet there is a great need for action and a lot of potential. The churches provide services on behalf of the state. These services should be provided by the state itself. These social and cultural services then become a justification for Christian churches and other religious communities to demand larger and larger annual lump-sum payments.

Problematic monopoly positions

These lump-sum payments privilege the churches over other providers of social or cultural institutions. They have to enter into fixed-term contracts with a clearly defined range of services or even seek public funding on a project-by-project basis, with uncertain outcomes. The flat rates guarantee the churches as service providers; a de facto monopoly position in some areas. In pastoral care, for example, this is not only objectionable from a regulatory point of view, but also problematic in terms of content. Even half of the church members do not see religion or spirituality as an important resource in coping with illness. For the vast majority among those without religion, this is - unsurprisingly - true. Therefore, secular alternatives to state-funded denominational pastoral care are needed. Not only in order not to discriminate against non-religious people, but also because the current offer is unsuitable for a substantial part of church members.

The orange line shows the upward trajectory of those without religious affiliation in Switzerland

Deconstruction of church privileges

The bans laid down in secular laws on cultural events, sports tournaments or market stalls on holidays in the Christian calendar, are difficult to reconcile with negative religious freedom and are anachronistic. 'The regulations are dubious regardless of the degree of secularisation of society, as they exaggerate the religious over other forms of social participation,' Andreas Kyriacou, President of the Freethinkers’ Association of Switzerland, pointed out. In view of the latest figures from the BfS, this once again becomes abundantly clear.

Note on FSO figures

Using the data from the Structural Survey 2021 (SE) and the Survey on Language, Religion and Culture 2019 (ESRK), the part of the population without religious affiliation can be characterised and compared with the population with religious affiliation in relation to the questions mentioned. The ESRK distinguishes between spontaneous and official affiliation. Spontaneous affiliation refers to the sense of belonging rather than the official religion. To obtain this information, the following question is asked: "Would you say that you have a religion and if so, which one?" For those who indicate a religion, the question reads, "Do you officially belong to that religion?" For those who do not indicate a religion, it reads as follows: "Do you still officially belong to a religion?". The structural survey does not nuance between official and spontaneous. To determine religious affiliation, the following question is asked: "Which church or religious community do you belong to?"

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