Limiting religion in public space is dangerous, Geneva Jewish leader warns

(JTA) — The leader of the Jewish community in the Swiss canton of Geneva warned of “dangers” he said would come from legislation that limits the role of religion in public space.

Philippe Grumbach, the president of the Jewish Community of Geneva, spoke about the legislation, whose drafts call for a strict separation between religion and state, in an interview that the Le Matin daily published Sunday. Initiated last year amid resistance to the effects of Muslim immigration, the bill on separation between religion and state is awaiting approval by the cantonal parliament’s human rights commission.

In addition to saying that the proposed legislation is unnecessary, Grumbach added that he was particularly “concerned” about clause 8 of the current draft bill, which states that in case of “severe disturbances” to public order, parliament could ban the wearing of religious symbols.

Complaining that the bill does not define what would constitute a severe disturbance, Grumbach said the bill, if passed into law, would mean “that the state could ban a Jew from wearing a kippah, a Muslim from wearing their garb, a Catholic their cross, a Sikh their turban.”

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The issue of wearing religious costumes in the public sphere is a divisive one in many Western European countries including France, where in 2010 the Senate passed a law banning face coverings such as the burka.

The burka ban, which exists also in Belgium and the Netherlands, has left many Western European Jews concerned that it would lead to the passing of measures also limiting the wearing of Jewish symbols in public.