This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a reminder that there are parts of Europe still struggling badly with issues surrounding religious liberty and multiculturalism.

In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly immigrants from other parts of Europe, like Kosovo and Turkey — that the minaret ban was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”

No, of course not. Why would they think that?

By all appearances, the measure was the result of blind bigotry, not an actual societal phenomenon. Of the 150 mosques in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and none conduct a call to prayer. The NYT noted that “close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia.”

Andrew Sullivan added, “It’s hard to think of a gesture more useless with respect to a real problem — integration of Muslim immigrants – or clumsier as a way to provoke religious hostility and intolerance and thereby further radicalize Swiss Muslims.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* At least one large branch of the Salvation Army, a Christian denomination, has been checking the immigration status of families in need, as part of the church’s annual Christmas toy drive. The Salvation Army reversed the policy after criticism this week.

* Wiley Drake, the notorious right-wing pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., has been promoting “imprecatory” prayers against President Obama this year (imprecatory prayers ask God to do harm to specific targets). This week, Drake shifted course, asking supporters to “cease” the imprecatory prayers, and instead pray for the president’s “protection.” Why? Because Drake wants Obama to be “tried for treason.”

* And in Alabama, a Birmingham woman, who changed her legal name to Jesus Christ, was excused from jury duty after disruptive behavior in the courtroom. A local news report added, “Efforts to reach Christ for comment were unsuccessful.” (thanks to reader M.M. for the heads-up)