Co-ed Swimming Lessons Mandatory For Muslim Girls In Switzerland

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that religious freedom was 'interfered with' but for a 'legitimate aim'

A Muslim model display burkini swimsuits at a shop — AFP/Getty Images
Jan 11, 2017 at 2:51 PM ET

Muslim schoolgirls in Switzerland must attend co-ed swimming classes with their male classmates, according to a ruling on Tuesday from the European Court of Human Rights.

The case was brought by two Swiss nationals from Turkey, Aziz Osmanoǧlu and Sehabat Kocabaş, who refused to send their young daughters to co-ed swimming classes because it violated their religious beliefs under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the organizational body that established the court. The local public education department in July 2010 ordered Osmanoǧlu and Kocabaş to pay a fine of nearly 1,300 Euros for “acting in breach of their parental duty.” This came after the parents were warned by education authorities that they risked being fined if their daughters did not attend the mandatory lessons. Since their girls have not yet reached puberty, they could not claim exemption under Article 9, according a press release from the ECHR. Osmanoǧlu and Kocabaş appealed to two more courts with no luck.

The Court on Tuesday issued a ruling that sided with the school saying that it played a “special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned.”

The court also noted that the education authorities “offered the applicants very flexible arrangements,” such as the option to wear a burkini, a full covered swimsuit, to assuage the parents’ uneasiness.

More German Court: Swimming Lessons Mandatory For Muslim Girl

The issue of mixed swimming lessons, specifically, and laws that target Muslims in general, seems to be of central focus for multiple lawmakers in Europe right now. Germany’s highest court made the same ruling in December, after an appeal from an 11-year-old student and her family said that even wearing a burkini revealed the shape of her body and therefore went against Islamic dress code. The case was made after Germany’s lower court’s ruled that “no binding rules in Islam” determine appropriate attire.

These rulings come at a time of heated debate about Islam in Europe, sparked largely by right-wing leaders’ concern over an influx of migrants from Muslim nations. In the last few years, more than a million refugees and asylum seekers have entered the EU to flee from conflict in countries like Syria. Right-wing leaders like Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, have leveraged anti-Islamic sentiment growing in Europe to garner support. Last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany called for a ban on the full-face veil, while Wilders was convicted for hate speech after saying that the Netherlands would be safer with “fewer Moroccans.”