Social integration trumps religious freedom, says ECHR
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled this week that Switzerland was justified in imposing fines on a pair of Muslim parents who refused to send their teenage daughters to compulsory mixed swimming lessons in the city of Basel.
The case was brought before the ECHR by two Swiss nationals, of Turkish origin, according to the BBC.
In 2010, after a long-running dispute, the parents were ordered to pay a combined fine of 1,400 Swiss Francs ($1,380, £1,136) “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.
In a statement, the ECHR said the refusal to exempt the girls had indeed interfered with the right to freedom of religion, but that the Swiss authorities were justified in giving precedence to enforcing “the full school curriculum” and the children’s “successful integration” into society.
Swiss Education officials had insisted that exemptions were available only for girls who had reached the age of puberty – which the girls had not reached at the time.
The ECHR found that the law was designed:
To protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion.
Switzerland, it said, was free to design its education system according to its own needs and traditions.
Schools, it added, played an important role in social integration, and exemptions from some lessons are:
Justified only in very exceptional circumstances. Accordingly, 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 court also noted that “very flexible arrangements” had been offered as a compromise, including allowing the girls to wear burkinis during lessons rather than traditional swimwear, and allowing them to change clothes with no boys in the room.
Hat tip: AgentCormac and BarrieJohn