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Muslim girls lose court battle over mandatory swim lessons

A road sign points in the direction of the town swimming pool, or Schwimmbad, in Breitenbach, Switzerland. 

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GENEVA -- Europe’s court of human rights has rejected an appeal by a Turkish-born couple who were fined in Switzerland for keeping their daughters out of mixed-gender, mandatory public-school swimming lessons for reasons linked to their Muslim faith.

The European Court of Human Rights decision upholds a Swiss federal court ruling that education officials had not violated the family’s rights of freedom of conscience and religion in the case in Basel dating to 2008.

In a summary of the ruling announced Tuesday, the European court based in Strasbourg, France, acknowledged “interference” in freedom of religion but that public school had a “special role” in integration, particularly of children of foreign origin.

Such issues of compulsory public education and religious belief have prompted similar cases in neighboring Germany and Liechtenstein in recent years.