The government’s statement came after Green Liberal MP Beat Flach said a clause in the penal code which makes blasphemy punished by a fine had no place in a ‘secular and liberal’ state and limited free speech.
Under the article in question, any person “who publicly and maliciously insults or mocks the religious convictions of others, and in particularly their belief in God” can be fined.
In addition, fines can also be imposed on any person “who maliciously prevents, disrupts or publicly mocks an act of worship” or “who maliciously desecrates a place or object that is intended for a religious ceremony or an act of worship”.
But in a motion (here in German) put before the Swiss parliament, Flach said the article meant that religious belief could not be criticised to the same degree as other world views.
He also argued that people’s right to freely practice their religion was guaranteed by other Swiss legislation including provisions outlawing incitement to racial hatred or discrimination.
He went on to point out that countries including Ireland, Malta and France had already struck blasphemy clauses from their books.
But the Swiss government came out in defence of the fines for attacks on religion.
It noted that while the Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and this was of “central importance” in a free state, there were also limits to such expression and that it had to be exercised with responsibility.
The executive also argued that the clause in the penal code outlawed only the most serious attacks on religious freedom – which is also guaranteed by the Swiss constitution – and that this prohibition was necessary to guarantee the successful coexistence of people with different religious beliefs.
In fact, there were less than 30 criminal convictions under the blasphemy clause from 2011 to 2017, according to Swiss media, while the last high profile case was in 1960 when Swiss painter Kurt Fahrner was fined 100 Swiss francs and handed a suspended three-day jail term for his painting of a crucified naked woman.
Lastly, the Swiss executive also noted it was impossible to compare the situation in different countries as the blasphemy laws involved were different. In Ireland for example, a controversial section of the constitutional clause on freedom of speech made “blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter” a punishable offence.
The Irish overwhelmingly voted to scrap this ban on blasphemy in a referendum last year.