Switzerland has won a case at the European court of human rights over its insistence that Muslim parents send their children to mixed-sex school swimming lessons. The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Swiss authorities had not violated the right to freedom of religion by insisting that two Muslim parents send their daughters to mixed-sex swimming lessons, reports the Guardian.
In a unanimous ruling, seven European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) judges decided that the children’s integration into “local customs and mores” took precedence over the parents’ desire to exempt their children from mixed-sex swimming lessons.
Two Swiss citizens of Turkish origin brought the case to the ECHR in 2012 after a long-running dispute with national authorities.
In 2008, school officials in Basel, Switzerland, ordered a Muslim couple to enroll their daughters in a mandatory swimming class, despite the parents’ objections to having their girls learn alongside boys.
The officials offered the couple some accommodations: The girls, 9 and 7 at the time, could wear body-covering swimsuits, known as burkinis, during the swimming lessons, and they could undress for the class without any boys present.
But the parents refused to send their daughters to the lessons, and in 2010, the officials imposed a fine of 1,400 Swiss francs, about USD 1,380.
Under Swiss law, children going through puberty may be granted an exemption from swimming lessons, but education officials told the parents at the time that their daughters did not yet qualify.
On Tuesday the ECHR upheld the decision of Switzerland’s federal court, noting that authorities had tried to make the lessons acceptable for the parents.
In a written statement on the ruling, the ECHR said school played “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned”.
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It added: “The children’s interest in attending swimming lessons was not just to learn to swim, but above all to take part in that activity with all the other pupils, with no exception on account of the children’s origin or their parents’ religious or philosophical convictions