ZURICH A move to ban the construction of new minarets in Switzerland would violate international human rights and the country's constitution, its federal government said on Wednesday.
A group of politicians from the Swiss People's Party (SVP) and Federal Democratic Union have gathered enough signatures to force a referendum, saying the minarets threaten law and order, but the government opposes the measure.
"The popular initiative against the construction of minarets has been submitted in accordance with the applicable regulations but infringes guaranteed international human rights and contradicts the core values of the Swiss Federal Constitution," the Department of Justice and Police said (EJPD).
"Such a ban would endanger peace between religions and would not help to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs."
The SVP has courted controversy, having previously run an anti-immigration campaign featuring three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag, which was condemned as racist by rights groups and the United Nations.
Swiss voters recently rejected another SVP proposal which would have made it more difficult for foreigners to secure citizenship, a campaign which included posters of yellow and black hands grabbing at Swiss passports.
The minaret proposal has to be discussed by parliament before being put to a popular vote and the process could take several years.
The Swiss government suggested that parliament now recommend a "no" vote since it would contravene both European and U.N. human rights conventions.
Switzerland has two minarets, in Zurich and Geneva, which would be unaffected by the vote. Neither issues a Moslem call to prayer.
The initiative would be against Switzerland's ban on discrimination and might endanger peace between religions and hinder integration of the Moslem population, the EJPD said.
"If the aim of the initiative is to put a stop to the growing influence of Islam in Switzerland, it will not achieve this with a general building ban on minarets," it said in a statement.
(Editing by Dina Kyriakidou)