In a case that according to the New York Times could “set an important precedent in other cases in which religious and secular values or norms come into conflict,” the European Court of Human Rights has upheld fines incurred to Swiss Muslim parents who refused to allow their two daughters to participate in co-ed swimming lessons on the basis of their religion.
The incident took place back in 2008 when the parents were ordered to enroll their two daughters (then ages nine and seven) in the mandatory co-ed swimming class. The parents’ sued the Swiss authorities, arguing that this violated their “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” But on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the Swiss court’s original decision which found that “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.”
According to the New York Times, “the decision 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.