European Court rules Switzerland can force Muslim girls to swim with boys

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Switzerland has won a European Court of Human Rights case allowing authorities to force Muslim parents to send their daughters to mixed-gender school swimming lessons, the Independent reports.

A panel of seven judges at ECHR found that freedom of religion had been “interfered with” but that the move was legitimised by the aim of “social integration”.

They were ruling on a legal challenge brought by two Swiss-Turkish parents from Basel, Aziz Osmanoǧlu and Sehabat Kocabaş, who refused to send their daughters to mixed swimming lessons on the grounds “that their beliefs prohibited them from allowing their children to take part”.

Education officials in the canton of Basel Urban advised the Muslim couple they could be fined up to £813,000 (1,000 Swiss Francs) each, but despite mediation attempts by the girls’ school, they continued not to attend the compulsory classes.

Mr Osmanoğlu and Ms Kocabaş were ordered to pay a fine of CHF 350 per parent and child – a total of CHF 1,400 (£1,138) – for “acting in breach of their parental duty”.

The Basel court of appeal dismissed their claim the following year, and another appeal was thrown out by Switzerland’s federal court in 2012.

The couple then lodged their case with the ECHR, claiming that the requirement to send their daughters to mixed swimming lessons violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECHR unanimously threw out their complaint, finding there had been no violation of freedom of religion, and that Switzerland’s right to facilitate “successful social integration according to local customs and mores” took precedence over parents’ wishes to refuse.

Swiss, Swedish, Spanish, Serbian and Slovakian judges were among the panel who delivered today’s ruling, which found that although freedom of religion had been “interfered with”, the move was legitimate as it was “seeking to protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion”.

A statement said: “The Court observed that school played a special role in the process of social integration, and one that was all the more decisive where pupils of foreign origin were concerned.

“The children’s interest in a full education, thus facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and mores, prevailed over the parents’ wish to have their children exempted from mixed swimming lessons.”

The ECHR ruled that countries had the right to govern the significance given to religion in national society, particularly regarding education, and found that the fine imposed by Swiss authorities was proportionate.

The Chamber judgement is not final and may be referred to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber by any party’s request over the next three months.

 

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