Integration of foreigners is more important than their religious beliefs, Switzerland’s highest court ruled on Friday. The court denied a 14-year-old girl from a strict Muslim family in Aargau the right to dispensation from school swim class.
The family argued that their strict religion prevented the girl from taking part in swimming lessons, where she would be seen by her male teacher and possibly other men. The girl already knew how to swim, having attended a private class strictly for Muslim girls, they added.
However, the court ruled that the girl must attend the swimming lessons offered at the high school: lessons were offered separately for girls and boys; wearing of a burkini – a full-body swmisuit – was allowed; and the girl would not have bodily contact with her male swimming teacher, since she already knew how to swim.
The court also stated that attendance at a Muslim-only swim course did not further integration, one of the goals of school swimming.
Allowing the dispensation would have contributed to “parallel societies”, the court found. Instead, the girl and her parents could reasonably be expected to take steps toward acceptance of local social and societal norms.
Muslims’ right to practice their religion was the subject of a huge controversy in 2009 in connection with a popular vote to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland. In contrast, a government report conducted in the wake of the ban found that “most Muslims in Switzerland are well-integrated and don’t generally experience problems related to their religious faith in everyday life”.