In 2008, a couple living in Basel, Switzerland, forbid their young daughters from attending school swim class. The Muslim parents didn't want their kids, 7 and 9, in the pool with boys. So the city ordered them to pay a fine of 1,400 Swiss francs (about $1,380) for “acting in breach of their parental duty.” In response, the parents sued, arguing that their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion had been violated. The European Court of Human Rights heard their case.
This week, it decided that schools can force parents to send their kids to co-ed swimming lessons. It argued that “the full school curriculum” was essential for children's “successful integration” into society. It also said that the measure “protect[ed] foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion.” And it noted that Switzerland should be able to design its education system according to its particular needs…The court did acknowledge that religious freedom was being interfered with but said that didn't make it a violation. The ruling fits into a much larger debate in Europe, one that pits the religious rights of minorities against a commitment to integration and secularism.
Experts say there's more at work than simple Islamophobia. Americans tend to privilege the rights of the parent. But in Europe, children have their own rights, ones that the state takes an active role in enforcing. For example, children have a right to an education and an obligation to go to school, no matter what parents say. NYU professor Elayne Oliphant writes: “Such bans or regulations are ostensibly aimed at enforcing 'integration,' but instead confirm Muslims' status as second-class citizens in Europe. That the ECHR has continually supported such efforts in the name of protecting majority 'cultures' — which are often equated with the majority religion of Christianity — suggests that the cultural and religious practices of Muslims are simply unworthy of similar protections. At a time when Islamophobia is rampant, the lack of national and European level support for Muslims exacerbates very difficult and painful experiences of exclusion.”
Source: The Washington Post