Foreign Affairs

Swiss Muslim girls have to swim with boys – European Court

Switzerland has won a case before the European Court of Human Rights, and has obliged the parents of two Muslim girls to send them together with boys for obligatory swimming lessons.

The European Court said the authorities were justified in enforcing the school curriculum and the successful integration of children in Society.

The parents had refused to send their children, who had still not reached the age of puberty,  for obligatory swimming lessons as part of their curriculum, and the authorities refused to grant an exemption and started imposing fines.

The Court recognised that religious belief was the issue, and observed that refusal by the authorities to grant an exemption was an obstacle to religious freedom.

The Court observed, however, that the school had a special role in the process of social integration, particularly when children were of foreign origin. The Court also observed that the children’s interest in having a complete education took precedence over the parents’ wish for them to be exempt from swimming lessons with boys.

The Court stated that attendance by children for these mixed swimming lessons was not meant only to teach them to swim, but above all to take part in an activity with other students, without exceptions based on the children’s origins or of philosophical or religious convictions.