Switzerland is in the thick of a religious and political dispute of the rights of Muslims to build mosques with minarets. Right wing politicians have succeeded in having a popular referendum on the issue on November 29 and the people voted to change their constitution to ban the future construction of minarets. Minarets are an important symbol for the call to prayer but are also perceived as symbols of religious extremism.
It is not uncommon for some religious minorities to find it difficult to build their places of worship. In Turkey Assyrian Christians find it very difficult to get permission to build churches and there are debates in Britain whenever a mosque with a minaret is wanted in a classic cityscape. Russell Powell on his Oxford blog, Practical Ethics News, argues that this is prejudice which forgets the history of persecution of Jews and Muslims, but he does feel that the kind of booming call to prayer is not acceptable in every country and location. The removal of religious rights, however, marks a dangerous turn, he writes, and an example of the tyranny of the majority.
What about bell-ringing? If a majority of a local population don’t go to Church and don’t like bells, or Church towers, or spires, should they be allowed to ban them? In other words, do our religious rights depend on the views of the majority, or are they universal?