Wednesday, January 11, 2017

European Court Rejects Muslim Parents' Complaints About Mixed Swim Lessons In Schools

In Osmanoğlu and Kocabaş v. Switzerland, (ECHR, Jan. 10. 2017) (full text of opinion in French), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment rejected a challenge by Muslim parents to a Swiss educational requirement that their young daughters attend mixed swim lessons.  The Court's press release summarized the decision:
The Court ... observed that the authorities’ refusal to grant ... an exemption from swimming lessons had been an interference with the freedom of religion, that interference being prescribed by law and pursuing a legitimate aim (protection of foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion).
The Court emphasised, however, that school played a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned. It observed 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 and that 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 pupils, with no exception on account of the children’s origin or their parents’ religious or philosophical convictions.
The Court also noted that the authorities had offered the applicants very flexible arrangements ... such as allowing their daughters to wear a burkini.... The Court accordingly found that by giving precedence to the children’s obligation to follow the full school curriculum and their successful integration over the applicants’ private interest in obtaining an exemption from mixed swimming lessons for their daughters on religious grounds, the domestic authorities had not exceeded the considerable margin of appreciation afforded to them ... which concerned compulsory education.
A Chamber Judgment may be appealed to the Grand Chamber. [Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.]