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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Can I still have a religious wedding or funeral if I don’t pay Swiss church tax?

An 'ecclesiastical tax’ is mandatory in most of Switzerland’s cantons. Does opting out of this fee mean the church can turn down your request for a marriage or other religious services? Here’s what you should know.

Can I still have a religious wedding or funeral if I don’t pay Swiss church tax?
Chances are you can get married in a Swiss church even if you skip your taxes. Photo by Davide De Giovanni from Pexels

Switzerland is one of only a handful of countries to levy a church tax. 

For more information on the tax, including which cantons have made it mandatory, check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: What is ‘church tax’ in Switzerland and do I have to pay it?

But what happens if you never declared your religious affiliation when registering with your local commune or if you decide to opt out of paying this tax afterwards?

Do you still have a prayer of being part of the church community, and benefiting from religious services such as marriage or funeral?

This is only an issue if you are a resident of cantons other than Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud, and Ticino, where a church tax is not levied.

If you live in the other 22 cantons, this is what you should know.

The only marriage considered legal in Switzerland is the one performed at a civil registry office. Religious ones are optional, so if you are not a churchgoer and don’t particularly care about the religious ceremony, then you can skip it altogether.

However if you, like many other couples, want to say ‘I do’ in front of a priest or minister after being already wed civilly, but you don’t pay church taxes, you have some other options to consider.

READ MORE: Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland? 

Are you a part of your local Catholic or Protestant congregation?

If you attend services more or less regularly, participate in various parish activities, and maybe even make a voluntary donation to the church, the chances of your pastor marrying you are greater than if you just walk off the street and ask to be wed.

Keep in mind, however, that regardless of whether you are a member of a particular congregation or not, most churches will ask you to undergo a “marriage preparation course” beforehand.

This means you have to invest some time and effort into a religious wedding ceremony.

Can a clergyperson refuse to marry a church tax evader even if all the above steps are taken?

There is nothing in the law to prevent him or her from turning down your request; churches are not required to marry everyone who shows up on their doorstep, especially as a religious ceremony is not a legal necessity in Switzerland.

However, this doesn’t mean a parish will automatically refuse to marry all those who don’t pay taxes. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that if you fulfil all the requirements listed above, a priest or minister will wed you, but you will be charged a fee for this service.

How much will depend on your place of residence and your parish, but you can expect to pay upward of 1,000 francs.

What about a funeral?

Anyone can be buried in Switzerland without a religious ceremony; the family can make all the arrangements directly with the undertaker.

However, if a religious service is requested for a deceased who did not pay his church taxes, conditions similar to those related to marriage would apply. In other words, clergy would most likely not refuse this sacred rite to anyone on the grounds that he or she didn’t pay taxes.

Here again, the family would have to assume the costs of the service.

READ MORE: Funerals, burials and wills: What you should know about dying in Switzerland

To sum up, and in general terms, you don’t have to automatically give up your dream of being married or buried (if that’s your thing) by a member of the clergy. It all depends on a number of other factors.

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FAMILY

EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

These days, it’s not just celebrities who seem to have a penchant for ruining their child’s life by bestowing him or her with an odd moniker. In Switzerland however, there are several rules about what you can - and cannot - name your child.

EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

Whether its hanging out your washing on a Sunday or flushing your toilet after 10pm at night, Switzerland has several rules which can be surprising to foreigners. 

One such example is what you are allowed to name your kids.  

While from time to time, parents’ failed attempt to give their child a unique name might make the news, there are in fact an extensive variety of rules about which names can actually be chosen in Switzerland.

Sticklers for the law as they are, the Swiss have several rules controlling what baby names can be given. 

No names which will damage a child’s well-being

Although this appears incredibly difficult to define, there are several actual examples which have been rejected for breaching the well-being rule. 

In considering this, Swiss authorities will look at whether “the child will be exposed to ridicule because of its name.”

This includes ‘Grandma’, ‘Rose Heart’, ‘Prince Valiant’ and ‘Puhbert’. 

REVEALED: The most popular baby name in each Swiss canton

They specifically prohibit giving your kid a name which will damage his or her “well-being”. Names aren’t allowed to be offensive either. 

Twins

Twins must not have names that are too similar to each other. 

The names must not be either spelt or pronounced in the same way. 

Swiss media gives the example of calling two boys “Philip” and “Philipe”. 

No villain names

Switzerland – or at least large parts of it – remain relatively religious, which is probably why choosing a bible villain name for your child is verboten. 

Newspaper Telebasel reports that the name Judas has already been rejected by Swiss registry offices – and will likely be rejected again. Satan, Cain and Lucifer are also banned. 

Boys are boys, girls are girls

Ever the traditionalists, Switzerland has tight gender rules for naming children. 

Specifically, a name must clearly indicate a person’s gender. 

Girls cannot be given a boy’s name and vice versa. 

If a name does not clearly indicate the person’s gender, then the child must be given a hyphenated double name or a second name to make this clear. 

Numbers or letters

In 2017, a Swiss court said ‘J’ was not appropriate as a middle name. 

The court held that allowing ‘J’ would be similar to letting people have a name made up of numbers – although ‘Jay’ a la Homer ‘Jay’ Simpson would presumably be fine. 

No place names

While the world might be debating how to cater to non-binary people who want to be identified as ‘their’, identifying as ‘there’ is a big no go in Switzerland. 

Place names for people are forbidden in Switzerland. 

This may not be interpreted incredibly strictly – Dakota Fanning and Brooklyn Beckham will be OK for now – but if you want to name your little boy ‘Matterhorn’ you may come across some resistance. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

No product names either

No matter how much you love a particular product, you will be prevented from honouring the brand by naming your child after it. 

That means Ovaltine, Rivella, Chanel or Ferrari are off the table. 

You’re also banned from naming your child after a plant or after an animal. 

What about foreign names? 

One major question – particularly among Local readers – is whether foreign names are banned. 

The main question is whether the name appears in the ‘Internationalen Handbuch der Vornamen’ – the International Handbook of First Names. 

This book – which does not appear to exist in English – expressly lists acceptable first names. 

If it appears in the book, it’s OK with Swiss authorities. 

Which names have actually been banned in Switzerland? 

Suissebook has listed several baby names which have been banned in Switzerland for breaking at least one of the rules listed above. 

In addition to all of those mentioned so far in this article, it includes Bierstubl (place name), Troublemaker (well-being), Mercedes (brand name) and Sputnik (not sure if that is a place or a thing, but either way it’s banned).

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