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Do the Swiss want to cut God from their National Anthem?

This turns out to be a reminder to read critically. A news story that came across my feed recently caught my eye. "Swiss to launch National Anthem competition." I'm always interested in things Swiss, but especially now, when I'll be leading a group through Switzerland in just a few weeks. So I clicked on the story to see what it was all about.

The story opens like this:

"Switzerland considers its national anthem too old-fashioned, so a new one will be chosen through a competition…The current text dates back to 1841 and includes references to God, prayer, mountains and sunshine.
"The real problem is above all the text," Mr Niederberger said. He is in the Swiss Society for Public Utility (SGG), the competition organiser.
The winning anthem will be presented to the government - the Federal Council - for approval.

After reading the whole article I still had a sense of mental dissonance that showed up after the opening paragraph, a sense that something just wasn't right. I know that in many social issues the Swiss tend towards a libertarian society, that it is increasingly secular with "only" 71% professing a faith in God, but it is also a country that is profoundly conservative when it comes to tradition. After all, in some areas of the country women weren't even given the vote until 1981. Did the Swiss really think their National Anthem was too old fashioned? Well, as it turns out, not so much.

The way the story is written, it implies that this search for a new anthem is government sponsored, and replacing the old anthem is simply a matter of waiting until the contest ends, and then picking the winner. I had never heard of the Swiss Society for Public Utility (SGG), so I did a google search and came up with tons of recent news articles on the internet, most of them very similar to the story posted by the BBC. In other words, cut and pasted from a press release with very little re-writing by the publishers.

It took a fair bit of digging to find the actual SGG web site, but I eventually did. It is indeed the sponsor of the search for a new anthem, an action they call CHymne. But it is not a government organization. It's actually a private foundation, dedicated to liberal and humanist ideals. Their proposal is no more than somebody like the American Humanist Association running a contest to find words to replace "In God we trust" on US currency.

And as for the winning anthem being "presented to the government for approval" -- well, since Switzerland is a direct democracy, every citizen has the right to present such proposals for consideration. It probably has less chance of being accepted than the upcoming vote on getting rid of mandatory military service. Every single male in Switzerland is required to serve in the military for 260 days, either all at once or in small bits before he turns 34, and then remains in the reserves for another 10 years. And yet the initiative to ban mandatory service has been soundly defeated twice in the last 25 years, and looks set to go down again this year.

Great moments in international relations

A 14th century statue in Florence was damaged by an American tourist -- because obviously if there's no ropes around it, it's ok to touch it, right? Thanks for helping bolster the international view of American tourists. (palm to forehead)

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