EU Court rules mixed swim lessons for Muslim girls

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A European court has ruled that Muslim girls must take part in mixed school swimming classes after rejecting a case by a Turkish-Swiss couple who had requested that their daughters be exempted from such activities.

A federal court in Switzerland had initially heard the case and ruled against them when they said it violated their freedom of religion.

The law involved with the right for freedom of religion, however, was made 'to protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion, ' the ECHR said in a statement.

The children's obligation to follow the full school curriculum took precedence over their parents' demand for their exemption on religious grounds, the Strasbourg-based worldwide court ECHR said, adding that "the domestic authorities had not exceeded the considerable margin of appreciation afforded to them in the present case, which concerned compulsory education". The court added schools have a "special role" in the integration of young children into Swiss society - particularly those from foreign backgrounds.

The families brought suit after they were forced by school authorities to pay a fine of 1,300 euros, citing article 9 of the EU Convention on Human Rights on freedom of thought and religion.

There are however exemptions to the rule, "only in very exceptional circumstances", including whether a student had hit puberty.

The ruling from the Strasbourg-based court follows an appeal from Muslim parents, who objected to sending their young daughters - aged seven and nine - to the classes.

The ECHR found that while religious rights were at issue, the children's education and successful social integration "according to local customs and mores" took precedent over the parents' desire to have their daughters exempted from swimming lessons.

Swimming lessons are mandatory in schools in Basel and many other places in Switzerland.