European court rules Muslim girls in Switzerland must take school swimming lessons

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From the Swiss edition of The Local

Muslim girls in Switzerland should not be exempted from mixed-sex school swimming lessons, the European Court of Human Rights has said in a landmark ruling.

The court in Strasbourg on Tuesday threw out the case brought by a Muslim couple in Basel who wanted their two elder daughters, pre-pubescent at the time, to sit out swimming lessons with boys for religious reasons. 

In its ruling the court judged that Basel authorities did not violate their right to freedom of religion by insisting their daughters attend the compulsory lessons. It accepted that the authorities’ refusal to exempt the girls interfered with their freedom of religion. But the interference, it said, was justified by the need to protect the children from social exclusion.

School plays “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned,” said the court. Swimming lessons are “not just to learn to swim, but above all to take part in that activity with all the other pupils”, it added.

Switzerland’s highest civil court in Lausanne ruled on the case back in 2012, saying the obligation to attend mixed swimming lessons was not an unacceptable attack on religious freedom. The European Court also judged that the fine of 1,400 francs was fair and proportional “in order to ensure that the parents do send their children to compulsory lessons, which is above all in their own interest, for socialization and successful integration”.

Tuesday’s ruling is not final. The couple has three months to appeal the decision.

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