Press release

Strong rights for churches hinder integration

State religious policy shapes attitudes towards Muslims

The more support a government gives to Christian churches, the more likely its population is to express reservations about Muslim immigrants. Statutory provisions such as the protection of Christian holidays, the collection of church taxes, and the practice of denominational religious instruction in schools strengthen a Christian cultural identity and make it difficult to integrate other religious groups. These are the results of a study by political scientists Marc Helbling from the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) and Richard Traunmüller of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main.

The fact that the researchers have based their analysis on data from the small country of Switzerland does not diminish the significance of the results. ‘When it comes to political policies on religion, the systems in Switzerland’s twenty-six cantons vary just as greatly as between individual Western European countries,’ Helbling explains. ‘Therefore, when examining these questions, Switzerland functions as a kind of testing ground for the whole of Europe.’

The study shows that in cantons which give Christian churches a strong position, respondents are more likely to make statements such as claiming there are too many Muslim immigrants in the country. They were also more likely to express the view that members of the Muslim religion should not have the right to build minarets or to wear headscarves in public. ‘We found it particularly interesting to note that symbolic and cultural aspects, such as the inclusion of a Christian cross in a canton flag, seemed more significant than concrete financial support of Christian churches,’ reported Helbling. Clearly, Muslims are more likely to be perceived as a threat by societies whose collective identities and public institutions are clearly shaped by Christianity.

To measure individual opinion, researchers used data from the 2011 Swiss election poll, in which 2,500 Swiss people were asked about their attitude towards the Muslim headscarf and the construction of minarets. This data was compared with an analysis of the political regulation of religion at the canton level. Following the international Religion Support Index developed by Jonathan Fox, the researchers compared whether churches and church organizations are supported financially, church taxes are collected, religious holidays are protected by law, and religious symbols are included on cantonal flags.

The study by Marc Helbling and Richard Traunmüller has been published online as a working paper in the Social Science Research Network. An abridged version in German can be found in the March 2015 issue of WZB-Mitteilungen under the title „Regeln – und was sie bewirken. Das Verhältnis von Staat und Religion prägt die Einstellung zu Muslimen“.



Dr. Marc Helbling
Head of the Emmy Noether Junior Research Group Immigration Policies in Comparison
fon: +49 30 25491 449
marc.helbling [at]

Gabriele Kammerer
Information and Communication Department
fon: +49 30 25491 517
gabriele.kammerer [at]