The commitment to secularism and against the presence of a crucifix in a public school leads to dismissal of a teacher in the canton of Valais/Wallis (Switzerland)

In Switzerland there exists a decision of the Federal Court of 1990 providing that a crucifix in a public school violates the requirement of religious neutrality and is thus to be removed at the latest if requested. Switzerland is heavily federally organized and there are big differences in how the relationship between church and state is emplemented in the individual cantons (i.e. districts of Switzerland).


I have removed myself the crucifix that was towering over the blackboard in my classroom at the end of 2009 and thus established myself the religious neutrality of this public space. At the beginning of May 2010 the Valais section of free-thinkers of Switzerland was founded, I became its president and I have also publicly spoken out for the separation of church and state, especially in
public schools. I have advocated a sceptical, scientific worldview, and humanist values, and claimed transparency in the system of church taxes, etc. (The system of church financing in the canton of Valais is in fact extremely scandalous).

On August 11th, 2010 a meeting was held with the Department of Education, where I raised questions regarding religious education and prayer during school hours, mass, presence of the crucifix, the situation of non-Catholic or non-believer teachers and pupils, etc. The cantonal law concerning public education provides that state school are to prepare their pupils for “… their task
as a human being and as a Christian … “, so – strictly speaking – the children of non-believer parents are also to be prepared for their task as Christian. This passage and the practices in many
public schools in Valais clearly violate the Swiss Federal Constitution and Universal Human Rights, too. A local politician of a Christian party, who wanted to gain something out of this manoeuvre has subsequently made public, that these questions were raised. Later I was asked to put up the crucifix in my classroom again. In fact, I refused to carry out this action. Twice the crucifix was put up overnight in my classroom again – against my expressed wishes. I twice removed it before class started and placed it in a closet. On October 8th, 2010 the school board handed me my immediate dismissal. The authorities operate with pretexts such as “lack of trust” and the like, even though I have excellent references and I always performed my work as a teacher in an exemplary way.

The State Council (the executive body of the canton) has not yet – nearly a whole year later! – decided whether the dismissal was unfair. A legal opinion on the case does, however, demonstrate clearly that the dismissal was unfair and that I have fulfilled the legal duty to my employer and that the situation at the school in Stalden has to be changed. It is scandalous that the authorities have tried and are still trying to make an example of it; it is to be condemned, that upstanding citizens, who raise critical issues and advocate for their rights, are being threatened by their social and
pecuniary death. I regard this case as one of the most serious disregards of secular principles in the recent history of Switzerland.