Swiss urged to continue to allow Mormon missionaries

December 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (RNS) Thirteen members of Congress are urging Swiss
authorities to allow Mormon missionaries to continue serving beyond
2012, when a new rule would forbid non-European Union citizens from
serving as missionaries.


Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both Utah Republicans, and Rep.
Jim Matheson, D-Utah, joined other Mormon members of Congress in urging
the Swiss government to meet with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints to figure out a way for missionaries to continue
serving in the country.


"It would be a great tragedy for our two nations if the
long-standing missionary program of the LDS Church in Switzerland were
terminated," the members wrote. "Switzerland can have no more
enthusiastic, lifetime ambassadors in the United States than these young
people when they return home."


Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, entered into an accord
with the EU in 2002 that allows European nationals to seek employment in
the country while restricting work permits for citizens of other
countries, according to a report by Swissinfo.ch. A recent court ruling
found missionaries are considered "gainfully employed" and subject to
the accord.


The existing transition agreement allowed a maximum of 80 Mormon
missionaries from the U.S. into the country this year, and 50 will be
allowed in 2011 but no more after that, the news agency reported.


"This is really an employment law issue," said Robert Smith,
managing director of Brigham Young University's International Center for
Law and Religion. "It has to do with how to regulate the inflow of
immigrants. The catch is that they've ruled that missionaries are
employees and therefore subject to immigration restrictions."


The basic idea for the Swiss government, Smith said, is "to treat
all religious groups equally."


Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the Utah-based church has a long
history in Switzerland dating to 1850 and that missionaries who have
served there return with "great love and respect" for the country.


"We hope a solution can be found that allows missionaries,
regardless of their country of origin, to continue to serve the Swiss
people," Trotter said.


The church built its first European temple in Bern, according to the
letter from the lawmakers, a point they say underscores the importance
of the relationship between the church and the country.


Bennett said Tuesday he wasn't sure what to make of the response by
then-Swiss Ambassador Urs Ziswiler, who wrote in October that it would
be up the "relevant communities" to decide whether to allow missionaries
in.


"It isn't a flat no; it isn't a `You guys are right' kind of
response," Bennett said. "We certainly will continue to press on that
issue because Mormon missionaries have been in Switzerland for over a
century and for (the Swiss government) to decide now they're not going
to let them in anymore is ... a demonstration of the level of
intolerance on the part of the Swiss that is in no way consistent with
the Swiss tradition."


The Swiss Embassy in Washington responded to a request for comment
by forwarding a copy of Ziswiler's October letter.