ECHR rules mixed swimming is obligatory for Swiss Muslim children

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By Catherine Hardy  with AFP
ECHR rules mixed swimming is obligatory for Swiss Muslim children

Muslim parents in Switzerland cannot refuse to send their daughters to mixed school-run swimming lessons.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accepted that the refusal by authorities to exempt girls from the lessons interfered with their right to freedom of religion.

However, it concluded that the interference was justified by the greater need to protect the children from social exclusion.

What the complainants said

The court was responding to a challenge by a Turkish-Swiss couple, who argued the classes violated their beliefs.

Aziz Ozmanoglu and his partner Sehabat Kocabas argued that forcing their daughters, born in 1999 and 2001, to attend the classes violated their faith.

All their appeals were rejected by the Swiss courts, after which they took their case to Strasbourg.

What the ECHR said

The Court held there had been no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The need to protect children from social exclusion took priority over their right to freedom of religion.

School plays “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin are concerned,” the Strasbourg-based tribunal said in its ruling

The court found that the authorities in Basel had tried to accommodate the parents’ beliefs by, for instance, allowing the girls to wear a full-body “burkini” swimsuit.

A fine of 1,400 Swiss francs (1,300 euros) imposed in 2010 was “proportionate to the aim pursued” of getting them to comply with the regulation, the court said.

Is this the end of the story?

Not necessarily.

The couple has three months to appeal against the decision.