European court: Swiss Muslim girls must swim with boys

European court: Swiss Muslim girls must swim with boys

The European Court of Human Rights upheld a decision of a Swiss court backing fines on Muslim parents who refused to allow their daughters to take part in mixed swimming lessons on the basis of their religion.

The parents, both Turkish-Swiss dual nationals, appealed to the court over a fine handed down by education authorities after they declined to send two of their daughters to mixed swimming lessons.

They said that the requirement, imposed by the school up until the age of puberty as part of its physical education curriculum, violated their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion enshrined in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

While the court acknowledged that the requirement was an interference with the freedom of religion, it ruled that the interference represented a “legitimate aim” to protect foreign pupils from social exclusion.

  • In 2016, officials in Basel suspended the citizenship process for the family of two teenage Muslim brothers who refused to shake hands with female teachers.
  • Switzerland has also applied the law to other cases – a man of Bosnian origin was fined last year for refusing to allow his daughter to take part in swimming lessons during school hours, among other activities.
  • Germany also battled with the issue of mixed swimming lessons in 2013, when a judge ruled that a 13-year-old girl must attend – but allowed the wearing of a burkini.
  • In France, in 2009, a woman was banned from swimming in a public pool in her burkini. That would be followed in 2016 by a controversial official ban on the garment in public spaces – which was eventually overturned by French courts.
  • France, Belgium, and the Netherlands all have bans on Muslim veils in public, to varying degrees

The court also ruled that the fine imposed on the parents, of 350 Swiss francs ($345) each per child, totalling 1,400 francs, was proportionate to the aim.

The European Court of Human Rights was established to oversee the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted by the 47-member Council of Europe. The court is not a European Union institution.

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