Swiss Muslim swim appeal fails
The European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg. Source: Wikimedia
The Turkish-Swiss dual nationality parents appealed to the court about the education authorities’ fine after they refused to send two of their daughters to mixed swimming lessons.
The court said that the requirement for pre-teens to take lessons as part of its physical education curriculum did not violate their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under the European Convention on Human Rights.
While the court acknowledged that swimming lessons interfered with the freedom of religion, it ruled that they represented a “legitimate aim” to protect migrants from social exclusion.
In 2008, Basel’s educational authorities ordered a Muslim couple to enrol their daughters in the mixed class.
The then seven- and nine-year-old girls could wear burkinis and undress without any boys present.
But the parents, Aziz Osmanoglu and Sehabat Kocabas, refused to send their girls and were fined 1,400 Swiss francs (US$1,380) in 2010. The parents, who have both Swiss and Turkish nationality, decided to sue.
“The public interest in following the full school curriculum should prevail over the applicants’ private interest in obtaining an exemption from mixed swimming lessons for their daughters,” the court ruled.
The decision by seven judges did not dispute that the denial of the parents’ request interfered with their religious freedom, but it emphasised that the need for social cohesion and integration overruled the family’s wishes. The court also noted that schools play “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned”.
In Switzerland, the ruling was widely welcomed although Muslims complained that it reflected growing intolerance for religious minorities.
“The swimming pool verdict unfortunately is what we expected,” tweeted Qaasim Illi of the Swiss Central Islamic Council. “Tolerance toward the religious is diminishing throughout Europe.”
The ruling could set a precedent in other cases in which religious and secular rules come into conflict.
Far-right parties like the National Front in France, Danish People’s Party and the Swiss People’s Party argue that many Muslims have failed to assimilate.
In May, the canton of Basel-Landschaft ruled that two Syrian migrant boys in the town of Therwil could not refuse to shake their teacher’s hand on religious grounds. Their refusal to shake hands sparked national anger. In Denmark last year, the town of Randers voted in January to require public day care centres and nurseries to include the pork on their lunch menus, sparking a national debate.
Supporters of the proposal said pork was essential to Danish national identity while critics said the proposal stigmatised Muslims, who had made no attempts to ban pork from school lunches.