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Mormons, U.S. officials seek way around Swiss missionary restriction
December 16th, 2010
11:55 PM ET

Mormons, U.S. officials seek way around Swiss missionary restriction

By Kelly Marshall Smoot, CNN

Because of changes in Swiss immigration and labor laws, the Mormon church and other religious groups soon will be unable to send any non-European missionaries to Switzerland.

But Mormon leaders and some U.S. government officials are hoping to find a way around that change in policy.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officials issued a statement on Tuesday saying Mormons have "a long history in Switzerland dating back to 1850. We hope a solution can be found that allows missionaries, regardless of their country of origin to serve the Swiss people."

A group of 13 Mormon members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid drafted a letter in August asking Swiss officials to reconsider their decision, especially as it applies to Mormon missionaries.

"We earnestly petition the Swiss government to reconsider this decision and to work with us and the LDS Church to find a solution which would permit LDS missionaries to continue to perform their missionary service in Switzerland as they have done since 1850," states the letter from Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Robert Bennett, R-Utah; and Reid, D-Nevada; and nine members of the House of Representatives.

The Swiss ambassador in Washington, Urs Ziswiler, said in response to the letter that the ban is the result of a 2002 change in Swiss immigration and labor laws that makes it easier for European nationals to find work in Switzerland and harder for everyone else, including missionaries.

Since 2008, missionary work in Switzerland is "considered as being for gainful employment," Ziswiler said, even though LDS missionaries are not paid for their time or service.

Norbert Baerlocher, the spokesman for the Swiss Embassy, on Thursday explained that the law does not apply just to the Latter-day Saints, but to any religious group that wants to send non-European missionaries or religious caregivers to work in Switzerland. Swiss courts decided that missionary work is "almost always linked to money, and therefore you have to have a working permit."

Baerlocher said the number of permits is decided by the Federal Council of Switzerland and that the number of permits can vary depending on the economic situation inside Switzerland. If the nation has high unemployment, it might reduce the number of permits, but can increase the number to meet the demand for labor during an economic boom.

Though not part of the European Union, Switzerland has made bilateral agreements with the EU that allow freedom of movement for Swiss and EU citizens. Immigration rules will keep out non-European missionaries, but churches can send as many missionaries as they want, as long as they are Swiss or from the EU, Baerlocher said.

According to church records, Switzerland is home to almost 8,000 Mormons and the Bern Switzerland Temple, the oldest LDS temple outside North America, which was completed in 1955. There are 100 Mormon missionaries currently serving in the Switzerland Geneva Mission and 171 missionaries in the Alpine-German Speaking Mission, though not all of them work in Switzerland because the mission boundaries overlap several different countries in the area.

The church was only able to send 80 non-European missionaries to Switzerland this year, it is limited to 50 in 2011, and none will be allowed into the country starting in 2012.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Europe

soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. John

    There should be a "sin tax" on missionary work and the Swiss should take advantage and benefit from these loons.

    December 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  2. Patrick

    What I don't get is how does LDS missions count as work. It's an unpaid service supplied by members of the church for free. It doesn't take up a single Switzerland job, it brings missionaries who will spend money that otherwise would of been spend somewhere else to the Swiss economy.

    This isn't about protecting employment it is about keeping the Church out of Switzerland. If that is what they want to do that is fine with me.

    They should try and make up a story that isn't true about it though.

    December 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Terre

      I am sure you would be happy if muslims built a minaret in your neighborhood, they put their own money into it and created jobs etc.I

      December 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Sarah

      Actually, I would not be bothered one bit to see such a thing - Islam does not terrorize me, and the only reason it even bothers most Christians is because the overreaching umbrella network of Fox News, Glenn Beck, and various other Republican outlets tell them they should be.

      December 18, 2010 at 4:32 am |
  3. Shane

    ah lookie here, our tax dollars hard at work again, instead of finding ways to mend our own country together and yet here we see a list of senators and reps spending there high status and pay to gord out their religion. like the swiss is ganna change the rule to : all non-European missionaries.......except mormons. and to think they tried to fight why they got banned from the parrish records as well.
    summed up, what makes me upset about this the most is that our leaders are wasting time on something so trivial as this. GET TO WORK FOR OUR STATE AND COUNTRY OR FIND ANOTHER JOB. there is a reason our for-fathers separated church and state.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  4. Elizar

    Secret government using religious leaders to stash their ca$h in those infamous Swiss Banks and it seems like the Swiss feel its about time again to re-negotiate their current rates.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  5. MaLia

    Who cares, it's one country out of thousands that don't want you bothering their citizens. Get over it and help those countries who are needy & poor...that should be the real focus of missionary work.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Guill

      MaLia, one of the most fundamental principles of the LDS Church is the importance of becoming fully autonomous. Reluctant to simply give fishes, the church has started, about a decade ago, a new program that helps people teach themselves how to fish: members of the church pour money into a fund that enables people to obtain diplomas. In turn they earn more money, reimburse their loans and become capable to contribute to the fund. The fund has been growing and growing since its inception and has proven highly successful so far. That's how they provide for the poor. Long-term.

      December 29, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  6. L.P

    I don't see the problem. Switzerland is a sovereign nation, and you would think that the Senators all up in arms would support the decsion of a sovereign, as much as they want state sovereignty. You don't have a right to go there anymore for that reason if that's how they want it, so link up with a EU Mormon group and keep the religion pumping through Switzerland. The US can't control them and force the issue, and besides who cares? The Swiss can't be the only country that the LDS church wants to send Missionaries to, go somewhere they want to see you and stop trying to force people who don't want to. Or is that just the way of organized religion?

    December 17, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • 2Bowdown

      You are trying to speak for the whole country. No one is being forced to do anything. Missionaries ask if they can share their message and the people either accept them or reject them..... NO FORCE USED!!!! and they DO NOT ask for DONATIONS.....

      December 18, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  7. HotAirAce

    Switzertland is a sovereign country, free to make any immigration laws, or in fact any laws, they like. There is no reason to give any group a "free pass" because they claim to be a religous, or even "not for profit" organization. Go Switzerland!

    December 17, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • David Johnson

      Amen, brother!

      December 17, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  8. Question

    The average LDS is a good person. They believe Jesus lived in Missouri and the Book of Mormon came out of a magic hat!

    December 17, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • David Johnson

      There are some, who believe Joey pulled that book of Mormon from somewhere else. There is no evidence to support any of their silly cult beliefs.

      Watch the episode of South Park for a quick overview of what Mormons believe. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb!

      Cheers!

      December 17, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • dreamer

      So no wonder they are a bunch Hicks that sit around in pregnant their ants niece an so forth an you are telling me that this religion of yours ant no occult that's it wasn't based on plamigatey u must be joking

      December 17, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Roo

      LOL, I'm pretty sure they also believe in mermaids and Shrek!

      December 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • GM

      When South Park becomes your religious authority ... who is being dumb?

      December 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • MG

      GM, my religious authority is BIG LOVE, any better?

      December 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • 2Bowdown

      The fact that South Park is being used a source for Mormonism says plenty about the poster..

      December 18, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  9. Ben Jones

    I would think that the purpose of the Immigration Law in Switzerland is to limit workers who are presumably taking jobs away from citizens. As the article states: "The Swiss ambassador in Washington, Urs Ziswiler, said in response to the letter that the ban is the result of a 2002 change in Swiss immigration and labor laws that makes it easier for European nationals to find work in Switzerland and harder for everyone else, including missionaries."

    Since missionaries are not earning money in Switzerland but are in fact bringing money into the country and spending it there, I don't understand how their labor laws even apply. Are thay also banning tourists?

    December 17, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Jimm

      Excellent point Mr. Jones. And very well and simply put. Case Closed

      December 27, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  10. Zoey

    "...Missionary work is 'almost always linked to money...'"

    What they're probably trying to say is that a lot of work done by missionaries (for free or not) can be done by European citizens for a paycheck. They don't want non-European missionaries taking paying jobs from their citizens if they can help it. Hence the part about being able to change the number of permits with the strength of the economy and level of unemployment. Sounds to me like the country is trying to look after their own people first.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  11. Zoey

    "...Missionary work is 'almost always linked to money...'"

    What they're probably trying to say is that a lot of work done by missionaries (for free) can be done by European citizens for a paycheck. They don't want non-European missionaries taking paying jobs from their citizens if they can help it. Hence the part about being able to change the number of permits with the strength of the economy and level of unemployment. Sounds to me like the country is trying to look after their own people first.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Bob

      > What they're probably trying to say is that a lot of work done by missionaries (for free) can be done by European citizens for a paycheck.

      No, what they are saying is that the money generated should be treated in the same way money generated by businesses should. JC-LDS isn't sending it's money off to Africa, it's hording it and investing it.

      December 17, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  12. laura

    This is yet another display of the rampant religious and ethnic intolerance in Europe. To think that a modern democracy would make minerets illegal, force out religious groups and deport foreign workers makes it sound more like China than anywhere else. Things just feel a lot like pre WWII history and that is one chapter I have no stomache for repeating.

    Oh, and to the respondent above, I am a Democrat. I actually know some very nice Mormon Democrats and I encourage you to look at the waybRepublicans treated Mitt Romney. Anti mormonism isn't a one party game, but I certainly think it is wrong.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:05 am |
    • Matt

      Laura, you are correct: Switzerland is a modern democratic state fully separated from church, whichever it is. Following a referendum (how more democratic can you be), the Swiss electorate decided to ban construction of minarets in their country. Minarets are viewed by a majority of Europeans, both Muslim and non-Muslim, as proselytism and a symbol of Islam's growing presence in Europe. Your comment about the deportation of foreign workers is absurd. Only foreign CRIMINALS will be deported. It is already the case in the US for example and no one seems upset about it. But you probably don't know that. If you read a bit, you should have heard of the Schengen agreement which allows people to live and work anywhere in Europe. As a consequence, it makes it more difficult for non-Europeans to work in Switzerland. US Mormons are not diplomats nor tourists. They need a work visa just like a non-US national would need a visa to work in the US, even as a volunteer.

      December 17, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • David Johnson

      @laura

      Come on! Its Christmas! This Swiss banning of missionaries is the best present I could have expected. God bless the Swiss!

      Cheers!

      The Mormons believe a lot of silly things. But, so do the Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and followers of Judaism. All religion is equally worthless.

      December 17, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • Guill

      @ Matt: I guess this applies not only to you, but also to everyone making such statements, but despite the truth of everything you wrote, this one sentence: "But you probably don't know that" makes you look like a prideful arrogant individual. Maybe you're not... But those few words might mean a lot about your real personality. And make you lose a lot of credibility.

      December 29, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  13. Duwayne Anderson

    The issue of whether or not Mormon missionaries are paid is an interesting on. It *used* to be that every Mormon missionary paid for his/her mission literally out of his/her (or the parents) own pocket. That’s how it worked when I served my mission in the 70’s.

    But under US tax law they couldn't deduct those personal expenses as “charitable” contributions. So the LDS Church tried an end-run around US tax law by having the missionary pay the church (making it a tax-deductable contribution) and then having the LDS Church pay the missionary. They also went to a flat rate so that missionaries in more expensive countries got more than they put in, and missionaries that went to less expensive countries got less than they put in. In effect the LDS Church is using a socialistic rebalancing approach to launder money for the missionary.

    There’s no legal problem with that. The legions of LDS lawyers made sure the program conforms to US tax law. The problem is that Mormons want it both ways. When it’s time to pay their US taxes they want to claim the money has been donated to the church (which then launders it back to them as a living expense). But when the Swiss look too closely they want to say that the missionaries are paying for their missions out of their own pockets – that they are pure volunteers. In a sense both situations are true, though not always honestly portrayed.

    We shouldn't fault Mormons for this - after all, it's only natural to want the best deal you can get. But folks should at least be up front about what the LDS Church is doing, and what's really going on.

    On a final note, the blanket statement that Mormons don't have a paid clergy is false. Mission Presidents are paid, as are Area Presidents and all the General Authorities. The General Authorities are compensated especially well - not through salaries but through lucrative appointments to boards of directors and other back-door deals in LDS corporations. It's a good-old-boys club that takes very good care of its members.

    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of "Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science"

    December 17, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • Noah

      When you "served" your mission in the 70s? What personal sin has lead to your hatred and persecution of the saints?

      For those of you who actively search out the church to persecute, demean and belittle, take a step back with some honesty and share your story for those who don't know what's going on. The spirit of humility and self-realization that you are a sinner, and that you must repent, is gone. You have committed a crime against God at some point in your life – you know it and God knows it, and now you blame the Church of Jesus Christ? These are the people that killed the prophets and apostles throughout the scriptures. You attempt to sway others into your unhappy lives of hatred. Judas Iscariot's all of you, repent – you are warned!

      December 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • GM

      I suggest you get your information from a better source. Of the 15 million members of the LDS faith, not a single one has made a fortune directly from the church. True, there are many popular LDS authors, photographers etc... but they make their money by capitalizing on the LDS "market." But I challenge you to name a single individual who has become "rich" (by the world's standards) by virtue of serving in a position of leadership in the LDS church. My confident guess is that you will find none.

      December 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  14. ELB

    The Swiss court got it wrong. Most missionary work by various churches (not just Mormons) are financed by money from the outside. Mormon missionaries pay there own way (I did on my mission). We rented housing from local people and bought lots of food and also paid for various things like dry cleaning ect. It brings money to the local economy.

    On the other hand, maybe this is a good thing. By now Europe should have enough missionaries to supply itself. This may serve as a call to action for the European Mormons that they need to send more of there own kids on missions. Or else, realocate the missionaries who serve there to cover more areas etc. The work will go forward, no matter what, so why worry too much?

    December 17, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • bobby

      Well said. I believe the quote is," the standard of truth has been erected, no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, and calumny may defame. But the purposes of God willll go forth boldly, nobly, and independent...."

      December 17, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • Bob

      > The Swiss court got it wrong. Most missionary work by various churches (not just Mormons) are financed by money from the outside. Mormon missionaries pay there own way (I did on my mission). We rented housing from local people and bought lots of food and also paid for various things like dry cleaning ect. It brings money to the local economy.

      Wow you head out on your own dime to help the church spread. And then they collect donations from those new people? Wow. Would seem the decent thing they could have done was to pay your airfare and lodging. They're getting something for nothing!

      December 17, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  15. David Johnson

    I envy the Swiss.

    December 17, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • IAmForLiberty

      I'd be willing to bet you vote Democrat.

      December 17, 2010 at 8:08 am |
    • David Johnson

      @AmForLiberty

      You said: "I'd be willing to bet you vote Democrat."

      I vote only for the Dems! The Republicans are the puppets of the evangelicals.

      Cheers!

      December 17, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • Sarah

      Since when does a person's political party affiliation have anything to do with their religious one?

      I am a Democrat, AND I'm Christian. I must be an abomination.

      Seriously, though, Republicans don't represent evangelicals or any Christian of any sort. Most of their policies are completely in opposition of basic Christian ideals once stripped of the rhetoric, and they only wave the God flag about and pretend to be self-righteous and take up church doctrine causes like LGBT rights because they need to keep a large portion of the American population enraged and voting for them.

      December 18, 2010 at 4:29 am |
  16. Buzzword

    Way to go! Religion is a business and especially the LDS...

    December 17, 2010 at 7:29 am |
    • Mormon

      No one in the LDS church gets paid for their time. It is run by volunteers. How is it a business?

      December 17, 2010 at 7:58 am |
    • Bob

      So you're not a business if you don't pay people? Sorry. That makes no sense.

      December 17, 2010 at 8:04 am |
    • Nonimus

      Does LDS take donations and/or ti.the? Isn't that revenue?
      Does LDS build temples? Who owns them?

      December 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Michael Stokes

    Strange, the only money linked to LDS 'Mormon' missionary work in a country is money coming into the country. I'm not an economist but It seems to me incoming money, no matter who it's from, would certainly be good for the economy.

    No money of any kind is paid to anyone in missionary service in the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints.

    December 17, 2010 at 5:46 am |
    • dreamer

      Oh come of it Mike all church in any religion asked for "donation" of some short an it uselessly in cashed from

      December 17, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • M. M. D.

      In fact, missionaries who serve for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) PAY their own way to serve. Just ask any parent, or children who help send parents to serve 'Senior Missions"...

      December 18, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  18. doctore0

    God is money; No money = no god

    December 17, 2010 at 4:13 am |
    • James

      God is love, and Heavenly Father loves you, too.

      December 17, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    • dpmol

      Heavenly Father = LDS cryptospeak

      December 18, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  19. Peace2All

    From the Article:

    "Norbert Baerlocher, the spokesman for the Swiss Embassy, on Thursday explained that the law does not apply just to the Latter-day Saints, but to any religious group that wants to send non-European missionaries or religious caregivers to work in Switzerland. Swiss courts decided that missionary work is "almost always linked to money, and therefore you have to have a working permit."

    Well, at least they are applying their restrictions apparently equally across the board with other religions too... 'not' just the Mormon's.

    Interesting that the courts determined that 'money is almost always linked.' Even though the paragraph above this one in the article said the missionaries are not paid.

    Follow the money trail...

    Peace...

    December 17, 2010 at 1:27 am |
    • Terre

      As far as I know there are mormons in Europe, why would American mormons have to go there?

      December 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Terre

      Well... that is one of my 'many' questions about this whole thing too, but I am guessing some of the 'Mormon's will be weighing in soon on this article.

      Peace...

      December 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  20. HotAirAce

    Yahoo! Way to go Switzerland!! Finally, recognition that religion is all about money! The US politicians asking for a change are dead wrong – they should not be involved in getting missionaries into any country – separation of church and state and all that.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:47 am |
    • Let Us Prey

      Well, at least you've got the "Yahoo" part right...

      The Swiss – Proudly serving since 1940 as the world's barometer for 'nonjudgmental' social and moral character. Famous chocolate, superior watches, and discrete banking.

      December 17, 2010 at 7:07 am |
    • Bob

      Since when do people have a right to go wherever they want and try to force their religion down your throat?

      December 17, 2010 at 8:02 am |
    • Bob

      The south park episode sums up why you should be skeptical of mormonism.

      December 17, 2010 at 8:06 am |
    • Cicero

      Mormon missionaries are not paid. Nor are any of the Mormon bishops or leaders. How then is this about money? The effect is to prevent Mormons from preaching their faith and inviting others to join their religion. Such activities are vital to the freedom of religion, and have always been recognized as such. Would you be happy with laws that suppress the preaching against religion? That would be suppressing free speech. Why do religious people have any less right to free speech than you do?

      December 17, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • Bob

      > Such activities are vital to the freedom of religion, and have always been recognized as such.

      No they have not. You are ignorant of what freedom of religion is. Freedom of religion is the right to practice any faith you wish. You do not have the right to go wherever you please and spread it. Second of all, the church is a business. If you have doubts about this, ask where all the money is going. Sure as heck not going to the poor. It's in holding accounts gaining interest.

      December 17, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • Gloria

      Separation of church and state has nothing to do with this issue. If you don't think politicians should be involved in a diplomatic issue, then how do you expect it to be solved. AND, if you don't think policians should be involved in advocating for different groups then what do you think they should be doing? The church is not all about money, although any non-profit, religious or not requires money to run.

      BOB- do your research before you make such a blatantly ignorant statement the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is usually the first to provide financial and humanitarian suppor to any disaster and to "the poor" in every community. Why don't you start looking at the good things they are doing in every community they are in instead of making ignorant, false statements.

      December 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Gloria

      And... the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints... has spent and does spend ...'Millions' on..oh, anything that has to do with equal right among LGBT's.

      Why those millions could be going to the poor, or ...heck, building yet, another one of there numerous multi-million dollar 'church-buildings, or temples..'

      Good with the Bad, I guess...?

      Peace...

      December 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Gloria

      *against anything that has to do with providing equal rights under the law to LGBT's*

      Peace...

      December 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • James

      These people are standing up for their religion and are acting in a way that is representative of the areas of the country that they represent and happen to be largel populated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

      December 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.