A Muslim couple of Turkish descent refused to allow their daughters to take part in swimming lessons with boys. The couple, living in Basel, Switzerland, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, after they lost the case in Swiss courts.
They argued that obligation of their daughters to participate in mixed swimming classes is a violation of their freedom to act in accordance with their faith.
The couple believed that their rights were being breached under Article 9 of the ECHR which protects their religious freedom. However, ECHR concluded that this wasn’t the case as the Swiss authorities had tried to negotiate with the couple.
The Swiss courts had ruled that the girls and boys in Switzerland must partake in mixed-gender swimming lessons, and has also tried to compromise with the couple, by allowing their daughters to wear the burkini (fully covered swimsuit). As well as this, they have allowed for separate changing areas which would be a no-boys zone. However, the couple rejected these proposals.
Although the couple’s appeal had been rejected by the ECHR, the court was aware that the ruling “had interfered” with the couple’s beliefs. Yet despite this, the court concluded that pupils who do not get involved in class activities such as this may be subject to social exclusion.
The court believes that the swimming lessons extend further than just learning to swim as it considers that schools play “a special role in the process of social integration and one that was all the more decisive where pupils of foreign origin were concerned.”
The couple has 3 months to appeal the verdict of the ECHR court.
Janini Rashidi from the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland told The Atlantic that in parts of Switzerland, as well as in Basel, “it is possible to homeschool children. Nobody would claim that these children face a lack of integration even though they are not schooled with classmates at all.”
The couple, Aziz Osmanoglu and Sehabat Kocabas, were fined a total of 1,400 Swiss Francs (£1148) in 2010 for repeatedly refusing to comply with the rules by not allowing their daughters to attend obligatory swimming lessons.
Although the court has dismissed the couple’s plea, the girls may excuse themselves from mixed-sex swimming lessons for religious reasons once they reach the age of puberty. The girls were of 9 and 11 at the time the case was first introduced.
A similar case had also transpired in Germany where a Muslim girl aged 11 had refused to take part in swimming lessons. She argued that the burkini still revealed the shape of her figure which she told the court was impermissible in Islam. Her parents, like Osmanoglu and Kocabas, unsuccessfully appealed her case.