The Swiss Parliament [official website, in french] voted 93-87 on Friday against a bill which would ban burqas [JURIST news archive] and other face coverings in public places. Proponents of the bill argued that banning burqas would promote gender equality and improve national security. Those against the bill argued that it was an excessive measure because so few women in Switzerland wear burqas that it would unduly punish Swiss Muslims and that a ban would create a negative image of the country in the minds of Muslim tourists. The Swiss Senate decided to let individual cantons [swissinfo.ch report] choose how to address protesters that hide their faces.
Burqas and other symbols of Islam have been a controversial subject in Europe. In July the Netherlands announced that a ban on burqas would go forward [JURIST report] later this year. Proponents of the Netherlands ban said the purpose was to stop people from being able to commit crimes and remain undetected by concealing their identities and covering their faces. Belgium officially banned [JURIST report] burqas in July 2011. France's ban on burqas took effect [JURIST report] on April 11 2011. Swiss voters approved a proposal to ban the construction of minarets [JURIST report] in November 2009, and the vote was subsequently upheld [JURIST report] in the European Court of Human Rights [official website] in July 2011. Some commentators have suggested that the rationales behind the European burqa bans are weak [JURIST op-ed] and that the true purpose of the bills is societal discomfort.