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Muslim Girls in Switzerland Must Attend Swim Classes With Boys, Court Says

“The public interest in following the full school curriculum should prevail over the applicants’ private interest in obtaining an exemption from mixed swimming lessons for their daughters,” the court found.

The case was the latest to pit freedom of religion against the imperative of social integration, and to raise the question of whether — and how much — the government should accommodate the religious views of Muslim citizens and residents, many of them immigrants.

The ruling could set an important precedent in other cases in which religious and secular values or norms come into conflict.

The decision comes as Europe has been struggling to integrate migrants, many from majority-Muslim countries where religious and social mores, particularly around gender and sexuality, can be at odds with liberal and secular norms of the societies where they have sought refuge.

A perceived failure by some immigrants to abide by local customs has helped fuel the rise of far-right political parties with anti-immigrant bents, from the National Front in France to the Danish People’s Party in Denmark and the Swiss People’s Party in Switzerland, which has warned against the “creeping Islamization” of the country.

In May, the authorities in the canton of Basel-Landschaft — which is next to the canton of Basel-Stadt, where the swimming case occurred — ruled that two Syrian immigrant brothers, who studied at a public school in the small town of Therwil, could not refuse to shake their teacher’s hand on religious grounds. Their refusal to do so had provoked a national uproar, and the authorities said that parents whose children refused to abide by the longstanding custom of handshaking could be fined up to 5,000 Swiss francs.

The challenge of integrating immigrants has spilled over into culture, and, at times, helped fan a simmering culture war. In Denmark, pork meatballs and other pork dishes became conflated with a debate on national identity last year after the central Danish town of Randers voted in January to require public day care centers and kindergartens to include the meat on their lunch menus.

In Germany, where nearly one million migrants arrived last year, including many from Middle Eastern countries buffeted by war, a dating coach, who calls himself “Mr. Flirt,” has been offering flirting lessons for young immigrant men, many of them from the Middle East, who have been seeking his advice on how to relate to the opposite sex in their new country.

At the end of 2015, hundreds of sexual assaults by young men in Cologne on New Year’s Eve shook Germany and became an uncomfortable symbol of the challenges of integration there.

In France, the clash between secularism and religious conservatism came into sharp relief this summer when nearly 30 towns, mainly in the south east of France, introduced burkini bans, suggesting that the garments impinged upon French culture and way of life.

In the case of the swimming classes in Switzerland, the authorities ruled that lessons mixing boys and girls were an important part of the school curriculum; they did allow that the girls could apply for an exemption on religious grounds, but only if they had already gone through puberty, which was not the case for the daughters of Mr. Osmanoglu and Ms. Kocabas.

The decision, by a chamber of seven judges, did not dispute that the denial of the parents’ request interfered with their religious freedom, but it emphasized that the need for social cohesion and integration trumped the family’s wishes. The court also noted that schools play “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned,” and that, as such, ensuring the girls’ “successful social integration according to local customs and mores” took precedence over religious concerns.

The parents have three months to appeal the court’s decision. Representatives of the family could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

In Switzerland, politicians and civic groups across the political spectrum welcomed the ruling, calling it an important validation of the supremacy of secularism and the rule of law, even as some Muslims complained that it reflected growing intolerance for religious minorities.

“The swimming pool verdict unfortunately is what we expected,” Qaasim Illi, a board member of the Swiss Central Islamic Council, wrote on Twitter. “Tolerance toward the religious is diminishing throughout Europe.”

Source: NYT > World

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