Swiss Canton Backs Ban on Public Face-Covering in Referendum

(Bloomberg) -- St. Gallen became the second Swiss canton forbidding covering one’s face in public, a rule that includes a ban of face veils worn for religious reasons, ahead of a national vote on the issue set to take place next year.

Sixty-seven percent of the electorate in the German-speaking canton supported a law allowing police to fine anyone covering their face in public. The rule will apply to Muslim women covering their face on religious grounds and anyone “threatening public safety or the religious and societal peace,” including demonstrators. Voter turnout was 36 percent, according to the cantonal government.

Proponents of a nationwide ban on face-hiding clothing submitted the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a national vote a year ago. The government opposes the initiative, saying individual cantons maintain authority on the matter. While the exact date for the national plebiscite hasn’t been set yet, the vote will probably take place next year.

St. Gallen’s parliament had originally passed the ban last November by a two-vote majority. The Young Greens, Young Socialist Party as well as the Young Green Liberals subsequently proposed a referendum on the grounds that the law restricts individual freedom and clearly targets Muslim women, stoking xenophobia.

The electorate in the the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino passed a ban for face veils in 2013, while voters in Glarus, a canton neighboring St. Gallen, dismissed a similar law last year.

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