Court backs Swiss that Muslim girls must attend swim class

Casey Mills
January 10, 2017

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.

Switzerland previous year rejected citizenship requests from two Muslim girls for refusing to take part in swimming lessons with boys at school.

Although the court recognised religious freedoms were being interfered with, judges said there was no violation.

The case was brought on by two Swiss nationals of Turkish origin who wouldn't send their teenage daughters to compulsory mixed-gender lessons, according to the BBC.

Exemptions, the ECHR said, are "justified only in very exceptional circumstances". At the time in 2010, the two girls had not yet reached puberty, a factor the court took into account - they would not have been obliged to participate if pubescent.

But it also said the law involved was created to "protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion" and Switzerland was free to design its education system according to its own needs and traditions.

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"Sports education, of which swimming was an integral part in the school attended by the applicants' children, was of special importance for children's development and health", the court said.

It also noted that the authorities in Basel, Switzerland, had tried to reach a compromise with the parents, including allowing the girls to wear burkinis for the lessons.

In 2010, the parents had to pay a fine of nearly €1,300 (£1,100) "for acting in breach of their parental duty".

They argued that such treatment was a violation of article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The court ruled that the refusal by authorities in the Swiss city of Basel to exempt the couple's two daughters from swimming lessons was justified by the need to promote the children's social integration.

Switzerland's highest civil court in Lausanne also ruled on the case back in 2012, saying the obligation to attend mixed swimming lessons was not an unacceptable attack on religious freedom.

Other reports by MyHealthBowl

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