Muslim parents living in Basel, who were opposed to mixed swimming classes at school, took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The case concerned the refusal of the 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.
Regarding the same case, in March 2012, Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal decided that the requirement for children take part in mixed swimming classes was not an attack on religious liberty.
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Nearly twenty years before in 1993, the Federal Tribunal took the opposite view when it ruled in favour of a father who was against his daughter being required to wear a swimming costume in the presence of male classmates. The decision caused a sensation, according to 20 Minutes.
While the European Court acknowledged on Tuesday that the cantonal authorities’ refusal to grant them an exemption from swimming lessons had been an interference with the freedom of religion, it decided that school played a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned, and decided that a full education, facilitating successful social integration according to local customs and mores, took precedence over the parents’ wish to have their daughters exempted from mixed swimming lessons.
In addition, the court said that attending swimming lessons was not just about learning to swim, but more importantly about taking part in a activity with all the other pupils, with no exception on account of the children’s origin or their parents’ religious or philosophical convictions.