Seventh-day Adventist religious freedom leaders say they are disappointed over last week's national vote in Switzerland banning construction of new minarets -- prayer towers atop Muslim mosques.
The action, effective immediately following the November 29 vote, was passed by 57.5 percent of voters following a national referendum supported by a far right-wing political party. The country's three other main political parties and the federal government opposed the ban.
"The Swiss [ban] shows just how much work is needed to advance the cause of religious freedom -- even in nations like Switzerland, which is one of the freest nations in the world," said John Graz, in a statement made in his role as secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association and director of the Adventist Church's Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department.
"It is claimed that the ban is not due to religious hostility, but rather a rejection of the Islamist political ideology," Graz said. "Supporters, therefore, largely do not believe the vote was a stroke against religious freedom."
Switerzerland's People's Party launched the referendum, arguing the minaret is a symbol of Islamic intolerance. Some have viewed the ban as a backlash against increasing Muslim separatists and extremist groups emerging in parts of Europe.
Small political groups in Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands are reportedly also seeking a similar ban.
Still, religious leaders say the ban restricts religious freedom and unfairly targets one religious group.
Graz, a Swiss native, said four of the country's 26 voting cantons opposed the ban, but that there were general voting distinctions by region: urban and French-speaking areas were generally opposed to the ban, but support for the initiative was higher among rural and German-speaking regions.
Also, cantons with mosques in their territory were less like to support the ban, he said.
Supporters posted advertisements for the initiative featuring minarets appearing similar to missiles arising out of a Swiss flag, Graz said.
The ad also featured a figure in conservative Muslim dress, including a full veil. A spokeswoman for Amnesty International told the New York Times that nearly 90 percent of Switzerland's 400,000 Muslims are originally from Kosovo and Turkey and don't support dress codes found in conservative Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia.
The Times also reported that Switzerland has about 150 mosques and Muslin prayer rooms and four minarets. Two minarets were planned for construction.