Muslim girls in Switzerland must attend mixed gender swimming lessons, the European Court of Human Rights (UNHCR) has ruled.
The case was brought to Strasbourg by Muslim parents of Swiss nationality who were fined by authorities for refusing to send their daughters to mixed swimming lessons, The Telegraph reports.
The court ruled it was not a violation of the pupils’ human rights to oblige them to take part in mixed swimming lessons, which are part of compulsory education in Switzerland. The court added schools have a “special role” in the integration of young children into Swiss society – particularly those from foreign backgrounds.
“The children’s interest in a full education, thus facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and more, prevailed over the parents’ wish to have their children exempted from mixed swimming lessons,” the ECHR said in its ruling.
The court also said the Swiss law involved was designed to “protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion” and that the country was at liberty to design its education system according to its own traditions and requirements.
The parents, who are both of Turkish background, had appealed the Swiss authority’s decision to fine them “for acting in breach of their parental duty”.
Their objections to the compulsory lessons were on religious grounds, the court noting both were “fervent practitioners of the Muslim religion”.
Exemptions to mixed swimming were available under Swiss law to the girls once they had reached puberty (which they had not reached at that time) and the court noted the “very flexible arrangements” that had been offered to the parents including allowing them to wear burkinis rather than standard swimwear, the BBC reports.
In June 2016, Breitbart London reported that two Muslim teenage girls from the canton of Basel were denied Swiss passports because the state had judged their naturalisation into society had failed due to their refusal to engage fully with the Swiss education system, refusing to take swimming lessons.
The teens were also noted to have refused to shake hands with teachers, a daily tradition in Switzerland, on religious grounds. Similarly, a school board intervened in a case of two Muslim brothers, also from Basel, who refused to shake hands with their female teacher.
The school board asserted pupils were expected to shake hands with their teacher as a mark of respect, stating that the integration of foreigners was a higher priority than religious freedom.