Swiss Muslim girls must learn to swim with boys, court rules

A Swiss couple had no legal grounds for keeping their Muslim daughters out of mandatory swim classes with boys at their co-ed school, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

Aziz Osmanoglu and Sehabat Kocabas, who also are Turkish nationals, refused for religious reasons to send their two daughters to swimming lessons at their school in Basel, Switzerland.

The parents, who have been pressing this case for nearly a decade, argued that sending their children to swimming lessons with boys contravened Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights — the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

But the court on Tuesday rejected the argument, stating that “school played a special role in the process of social integration.”

Court: ‘Integration’ a priority

The court ruled that Swiss officials’ goal to facilitate each child’s “successful social integration according to local customs” took precedence over the parents’ wishes to have their daughters excused from swimming lessons.

Court officials noted that Swiss authorities had offered the parents flexibility by allowing the daughters to wear a burkini, a light swimsuit that covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet.

The parents first incurred a fine of $1,352 in 2010 for refusing to comply, according to the court.

If the children had been older at the time, they would have qualified for an exception in Swiss law available to girls who have reached the age of puberty.

The couple’s daughters will turn 18 and 16 this year.

Efforts at mediation between the parents and the school had failed.

Two earlier appeals were dismissed. The couple can appeal the latest judgment.

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