354.116 M 82/23

The Minister in Switzerland (Gibson) to the Secretary of State

No. 206

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 166 of October 7th requesting instructions with regard to the case of American Mormon missionaries, resident in Switzerland, who have been refused renewal of residence permits by certain cantonal authorities.

Upon receipt of the Department’s telegram No. 85, of October 27, 4 p.m., embodying instructions in the nature requested, I immediately drew up an aide-mémoire based on these instructions which I left personally with Mr. Dinichert, Chief of the Division of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Political Department, on October 28, 1924. A copy of this aide-mémoire is transmitted herewith.49 It will be noted that as the residence permits of certain of these missionaries were to expire on October 31, 1924, I specifically called attention to this fact in my aide-mémoire in the hope that a reply might be received prior to that date.

Accordingly, on October 31, 1924, I received a memorandum from the Political Department, a copy and translation of which are enclosed,49 in answer to my aide-mémoire under reference. It will be noted that this memorandum states that the question of religious freedom in Switzerland is absolutely independent of the question of the residence of foreigners in this country. Religious freedom does [Page 262] not carry with it the right of foreigners to travel or to establish themselves in Switzerland. The exercise of this right lies within the sovereignty of the cantons as expressly provided for by federal legislation. It is therefore the cantons alone which, in each particular case, are capable of deciding on questions of residence. Their decisions in these matters are without appeal and the Federal authorities have no means at their disposal to bring about a modification of the cantonal decisions. The memorandum adds that, in view of the foregoing, the missionaries in this country have never been disturbed in any way on account of their personal religious convictions. The refusal of certain cantons to prolong the residence permits of the missionaries in question has, on the contrary, been especially necessitated by their proselytizing methods which have caused trouble and disturbances in many Swiss families, disturbances which in turn have led to general complaints. In view of these frequent unfortunate experiences, the memorandum declares that there is nothing surprising in the action of the cantonal authorities.

In discussing this matter with the appropriate official of the Political Department, the Legation was clearly informed that the portion of this memorandum which concerns the measures taken by the cantonal authorities, alone relates to the missionaries the prolongation of whose residence permits has at this time been refused—and in no way applies to Mormon missionaries as a class. He went on to say that there were a large number of missionaries residing in Switzerland whose activities had caused no criticism whatsoever and so long as no complaints were generally directed against these remaining missionaries they would be allowed to reside undisturbed in Switzerland.

It would not appear that the Legation has grounds for making further representations to the Federal authorities on behalf of the missionaries whose prolongation of residence permits has been refused in view of the nature of the foregoing memorandum. It has been definitely stated that the cantonal authorities are supreme in matters of this sort; that their decisions are without appeal; that their action in these cases under reference has in no way been influenced by their religious beliefs, and that their decisions in each case to refuse the prolongation of residence permits were solely based on the fact that complaints had been generally directed against these particular missionaries for having caused disturbances in various families. In emphasizing this portion of the memorandum, the official of the Political Department with whom this matter was discussed made the following observation: He said that only a few days ago a member of the National Council had come to his office with the request that representations be made to this Legation with a view to securing for him permission to remain in the United States [Page 263] on his proposed visit for a longer period than is provided for by the immigration act with respect to the residence in America of non immigrants. The official in question told the deputy that, as the question of the residence of foreigners in the United States was purely a matter of national sovereignty, he must decline to make the representations requested.

The fact that it has not been possible to extend the residence permits of the missionaries in question has been communicated to them and I understand that their departure from Switzerland has taken place in accordance with the limit of time placed upon their residence.

I have [etc.]

Hugh Gibson
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.