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Martin Laplante

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Mon, 30 Nov 2009

Direct Democracy vs. Intolerance - the Swiss Minaret Vote

Up until yesterday, I thought that democratic control of urban planning issues was a generally good thing. Sure, there was Oregon's Ballot Measure 37, where a well funded advertising campaign convinced voters that zoning to restrict development potential was theft by the government, but the subsequent vote on Measure 49 reversed the worst of it.

The Sierra CLub and others worked pretty hard to get Floridians to vote on a measure that can give the population a veto on major amendments to Comprehensive Plans. By and large as far as I can tell, voters tend to vote for reasonable, environmentally sound and tolerant policies, it's not just NIMBY.

But then came the shocking national Swiss referendum on the building of minarets. The proposal to add this clause to the Swiss constitution "The construction of minarets is prohibited" has now passed. This was done despite virtually all Swiss governments and religious leaders urging the population to vote against it. This gives democracy a bad name. At the very least it gives Swiss citizens a completely different image. Neutral no more.

I live in an area of my city with a fair number of muslims and there is a small mosque on the second floor of a building. The ground floor has 8 businesses and I would guess that 3-4 have muslim owners. I was eating in an ethnic restaurant there and heard a faint call to prayer from a speaker inside the restaurant. It was quite lovely. I wondered why the speaker wasn't outside. I wrote a short piece in the local community paper. I was surprised to see that many of my neighbours hoped that noise by-laws would forbid it. In any case the mosque had no intention to even ask. Maybe most people aren't as happy as I am to see freedom of religion in practice.

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