On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the Swiss officials’ decision, rejecting the parents’ argument that the Swiss authorities had violated the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court enforces.But if you keep reading, you'll see that the court is nowhere nearly as briskly sectarian as the headline and the first few paragraphs make it sound. Further down, there's this (boldface added):
“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....
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 gone through puberty, which was not the case for the daughters of Mr. Osmanoglu and Ms. Kocabas.The court did provide for a religious exemption, but only at the point where the religious text draws the line: puberty. The court isn't simply imposing a standard government rule on religious people who ask for special treatment. It's just demanding a showing that there really is a religious burden as opposed to a cultural preference. It seems that those asking for an exemption have to premise their request on religious doctrine and they need to prove what they say is religion really is part of their religion. Parents can't just say they are members of a religious group and then force the school to vary the rules to accommodate their tastes and their culture.
The parents argued that even though the Quran does not require girls’ bodies to be covered until puberty, “their belief commanded them to prepare their daughters for the precepts that would be applied to them from puberty” onward, according to the court’s summary of the case.
Here's a related story from last May: "Muslim Boys at a Swiss School Must Shake Teachers’ Hands, Even Female Ones."
The boys’ school had initially decided to grant the brothers an exemption from the custom after the boys, ages 14 and 16, the sons of an imam from Syria, had argued that Islam did not permit physical contact with a person of the opposite sex, with the exception of immediate family members. Seeking a compromise, the school decided that the boys would not have to shake male teachers’ hands either.After the political pressure, a government board ruled that the students would have shake hands:
But when the compromise became public last month, it provoked an uproar from educators and politicians across the ideological spectrum.....
[T]he cantonal board for education, culture and sport in Basel-Landschaft... acknowledged that forcing the students to shake their female teacher’s hand was an “intrusion” on their religious beliefs but said that it was a proportionate one since, in its view, “it did not involve the central tenets of Islam.”