Tribune de Genève.
According to the newspaper, parents of children at the Collège de Drize, in Carouge, Geneva, were outraged when their children, aged between 12 and 15, arrived home last week with copies of the New Testament.
It turns out the Bibles were distributed by Gideons International, an American evangelical organisation, without authorisation.
The organisation has been in trouble in Switzerland before. Swiss broadcaster RTS, reported complaints against the organisation by the Swiss military in 2015. And Tribune de Genève, reported a similar complaint at another Geneva school, the Collège de l’Aubépine, in 2010.
The management of the Collège de Drize only found out about the incident via the press. Pierre-Antoine Preti, spokesperson for the department overseeing schools (DIP), said “The rules around selling or distributing things on the streets are run by communes. The commune of Carouge decides whether to grant permission to distribute or not.”
“This organisation did not ask for authorisation. In any case, the commune would not have authorised the distribution of religious material outside a school, in the same way that it would not have allowed a company to hand out free product samples to pupils” said Nicolas Walder, from the commune.
What can the DIP do to stop religious proselytising? Preti said “The DIP can intervene if they are on school grounds during school hours. Outside school grounds they can’t do anything other than contact the commune authorities or the police”. According to Nicolas Walder, “They can call the police and have them removed and sanctioned if they are not authorised. The police could have come, but the school’s management would have needed to inform them. They can’t keep an eye on everything.”
According to reports, the distribution happened in an area not visible to teachers.
Geneva is in the process of updating its laïcité laws, a set of rules that legally separate public institutions and religion. The new text, which is currently being debated, stipulates that “all religious expression requires authorisation”.
Geneva takes separating state and religion seriously. Article 3 of Geneva’s constitution, updated in 2012, covers laïcité, and states that the government should be secular, religiously neutral, not pay clerical salaries or subsidise any religious activity, while maintaining relations with religious communities. In 2013, Geneva’s government commissioned experts to consider the scope of article 3 and come up with a fresh set of detailed rules. All of this work and two counter proposals are still being discussed by Geneva’s government.
Nicolas Walder commented that “The incident at the Collège de Drize was an exception. In general, coexistence with religious groups isn’t a problem in Geneva. We need to better control these sorts of incidents so they don’t get out of control.”