Let’s be clear here. This move is, as Norm says, “a grossly illiberal measure”. It is, quite simply, an infringement of an individual’s property rights. Libertarians should be appalled - and if they are not, then they are not really libertarian.
However, Left Outside is, I think, entirely wrong to call the move “spectacularly undemocratic.” If we define democracy as the will of the majority, then it is perfectly democratic.
We have, therefore, a simple conflict of fundamental values, a vindication of Isaiah Berlin:
The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution, in which all the good things co-exist, seems to me not merely unattainable - that is a truism - but conceptually incoherent…Some among the great goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss. (“The pursuit of the ideal", p11 in The Proper Study of Mankind)The question is: is there anything that can be done to mitigate this trade-off?*
One possibility which I favour is to use demand-revealing referenda. If people had to stake their own money - even though the risk of loss is actually small - they would be less ready to vote to reduce others’ liberty. They’d figure: a minaret does me no harm, so why should I pay to stop them being built?
Another possibility, though, is education. Are there ways of educating people to respect freedom more - perhaps by making them aware of the cognitive biases that can stoke up the demand for state regulation?
In the absence of such answers, the beauty of the Swiss decision is that it forces us to address a question I’ve posed - but not answered! - several times here: what is the value of democracy, given that it can yield poor substantive outcomes? What, for that matter, is the value of liberty?
Paul has recently tried to answer the first question by pointing out that democracy is not just the will of the majority, but also a value in itself, one that expresses the fundamental equality of persons.
The trouble is, though, that the Swiss decision actually violates this principle, as it is anti-egalitarian - it says that Muslims should have fewer rights than others, in that they should be less free to put up religious buildings than others.
We are, then, left with a nice puzzle: how to argue for the value of liberty and democracy, rather than merely assert them.
* Note that a bill of rights would not solve this problem at all, as it merely prioritizes liberty over democracy.