- By Dr. Negeen Baktashi
EU Court insists Muslim boys and girls must swim with opposite sex or face fines
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European Court of Human Rights upholds fines on Swiss Muslim parents who refused mixed swimming lessons for sons or daughters
The European Court of Human Rights upheld a decision of a Swiss court backing fines on Muslim parents who refused to allow their sons or daughters to take part in mixed swimming lessons on the basis of their religion.
Two sets parents, both Turkish-Swiss dual nationals, appealed to the court over a fine handed down by education authorities after they declined to send two of their daughters to mixed swimming lessons.
They said that the requirement, imposed by the school up until the age of puberty as part of its physical education curriculum, violated their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion enshrined in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While the court acknowledged that the requirement was an interference with the freedom of religion, it ruled that the interference represented a “legitimate aim” to protect foreign pupils from social exclusion.
In the UK where many schools have compulsory swimming lessons up to the age of 15 or even 18, exclusion due to personal comfort or religious beliefs is common place with an overwhelming majority of schools only offering same sex sports and swimming classes due to a total lack of participation from students of all religious and ethnic backgrounds if the classes are mixed.
The court said that schools played an important role in encouraging social integration, especially regarding children of foreign origin.
It also noted that the authorities in Basel, Switzerland, had tried to reach a compromise with the parents, including allowing the girls to wear burkinis for the lessons.
The court also ruled that the fine imposed on the parents, of 350 Swiss francs ($345) each per child, totalling 1’400 francs, was proportionate to the aim.
The European Court of Human Rights was established to oversee the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted by the 47-member Council of Europe.
The court is not a European Union institution, and not all EU members uphold or recognise it’s rulings.
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