- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SWISS ‘INTOLERANCE’

The leaders of a congressional human rights panel criticized Swiss voters for approving a resolution to ban the further construction of mosque minarets and warned that the prohibition violates European religious freedom standards.

“If this ban on religious expression is allowed to stand, Switzerland will clearly be out of step with its OSCE commitments of freedom of religion and belief,” Rep. Alcee L. Hastings said this week, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The 56-nation OSCE is a major human rights alliance throughout Europe and Eurasia. Mr. Hastings, Florida Democrat, is the co-chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“I hope the Swiss courts will overturn this referendum and that the Swiss government will double its efforts to implement anti-discrimination laws and have an open and honest dialogue about religious and ethnic tolerance,” Mr. Hastings added.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, the commission chairman, expressed worries that the referendum will send the message that Swiss are an intolerant people.

“The Swiss vote to ban minarets is worrying for a number of reasons, including the fact that the Swiss people have seen fit to limit the religious practice of one particular group,” the Maryland Democrat said.

“I trust the Swiss government will work swiftly to be sure that the Swiss are not viewed as an intolerant people.”

Swiss citizens endorsed the referendum Sunday with 57.5 percent of the vote. The referendum bans the further construction of minarets, the mosque towers used to broadcast daily calls to prayer, but it does not restrict the construction of further mosques.

In Switzerland, Ulrich Schuler, the architect of the referendum endorsed by the Swiss People’s Party, told reporters that the ban was necessary because minarets are symbols of radical Islamic demands to impose Muslim laws in the majority Christian country.

NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS

The Norwegian Embassy is preparing to kick off its 13th Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Union Station on Thursday evening, but Norwegian diplomats have a secret to share about the celebration. The tree is artificial.

One diplomat revealed the secret to Embassy Row, justifying the substitution of a real tree for a fake one on environmental grounds. Jannicke Jaeger said Norway is saving trees by reusing the 32-foot artificial one for the second year.

The real trees used to be supplied by the Lutheran College of Iowa, which was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1861.

Regardless of the nature of the tree, Norwegian Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen is not afraid to be politically incorrect when it comes to Christmas. He still talks about Christmas trees and Christmas carols, no empty “holiday wishes” from him.

Mr. Strommen will kick off the Christmas season in Washington with the tree lighting at 6 p.m., with Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey throwing the switch that will turn on 20,000 lights on the tree.

“The tree is a gift from Norway to the people of Washington, D.C., and is a symbol of Norway’s appreciation for the strong friendship and relation between our nations,” Mr. Strommen said this week. “The tree symbolizes Norway’s gratitude for help received during and after World War II.”

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, where the Norwegian-American 99th Battalion fought heroically at one of the pivotal confrontations in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Children’s Chorus of Washington will sing Christmas carols, and members of the Army Band will also perform. A model train that chugs through a Norwegian landscape is also on display.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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