Muslim Girls in Switzerland Must Swim With Boys, Strasbourg Court Rules

The decision confirms earlier rulings by national courts, which found that Swiss authorities had acted properly in fining Muslim parents who kept their daughters at home in order to avoid mixed swimming lessons.
The family's application to the European Court of Human Rights alleged a violation of their right to religious freedom, which is protected by Article 9 of the Convention on Human Rights.

Mixed swimming lessons

The case, Osmanoǧlu and Kocabaş v. Switzerland, concerned the refusal of Muslim parents to send their daughters, who had not reached the age of puberty, to compulsory mixed swimming lessons as part of their schooling, and the authorities’ refusal to grant them an exemption.

In 2010, the family from Basel was ordered by Swiss authorities to pay a fine. Multiple lawsuits followed, but the Swiss courts never found in favor of the family.

After exhausting national judicial avenues, the family appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

Importance of integrating pupils

The ECtHR agreed with Swiss courts and disagreed with the family, finding that the family's right to religious freedom, protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was not infringed in this instance.

The Strasbourg court emphasized the importance of the special role that schools play in the process of social integration. It said that this is especially the case where children of foreign origin were concerned.

It further stated that the children’s interest in a full education, facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and mores, took precedence over the parents’ wish to have their daughters exempted from mixed swimming lessons.

The ECtHR said that mixed swimming classes were an important opportunity for children to be around other children, regardless of religious or other beliefs. (Image: Susy Morris)

The children’s interest in attending swimming lessons was not just to learn to swim, but above all to take part in that activity with all the other children.

No exception should be made on account of the children’s origin or their parents’ religious or philosophical convictions, the ECtHR said.

The court therefore found that the domestic authorities had not exceeded their prerogatives by giving precedence to the children’s obligation to follow the full school curriculum and their successful integration over the applicants’ private interest on religious grounds.

For more, see the court's press release here.