Two Muslim teenage girls have been refused Swiss citizenship after they refused to take part in residential camps and compulsory swimming lessons at school in Basel. The two sisters, aged 12 and 14 and refused to participate in the school's activities based on religious grounds.
Stefan Wehrle, the President of the Naturalisation Committee involved in the decision, told broadcaster SRF earlier this week that young people who wanted to become Swiss citizens must prove that they are meeting the requirements of the Swiss education system. Swimming lessons are compulsory in Basel's schools, as in many other places in Switzerland, including Zurich and Bern.
He said that failing to attend these lessons meant that the student is not meeting the requirements of the education system. "Whoever doesn't fulfill these conditions violates the law and therefore cannot be naturalised," Wehrle told the broadcaster, according to The Local.
The case was decided last year but its decision was only made public on Monday 27 June. The broadcaster noted that this is the first time that citizenship had been denied on such grounds, adding that this could set a precedent.
Previously, Swiss courts have refused to give Muslim families exemption from swimming lessons, insisting that integration came before religion. In Basel, authorities have fined parents of Muslim school children who refuse to take part in swimming lessons.
Naturalisation in Switzerland involves showing proof of integration. It involves cantonal and communal authorities, including a resident-led committee, The Local said.
Recently, Muslim children in Switzerland were told that they must shake hands with their teachers at the start and end of lessons, effectively throwing out an exemption granted to two teenage brothers by their school in Therwil. The boys had told their female teachers that they were not allowed to shake their hands because physical contact with women outside their family was forbidden by their religion.
Initially the school gave special dispensation to the boys, whose father is an Imam, However the regional authority stepped in and revoked the decision, saying that it was unlawful. The boys have also applied for Swiss citizenship and their application is still pending, says The Local.