A twelve-year-old Muslim girl and her parents have been told by a German court that she must attend co-ed swimming lessons despite her religious objections to wearing formfitting clothing. The court in North Rhine-Westphalia said that the school’s interest in teaching swimming outweighs the bona fide religious objections of the parents. It appears that free style outweighs free exercise in Germany.
The administrative court in Düsseldorf held that the girl can be punished for failing to attend the coed swimming classes. In a uniquely stupid rationalization, the court noted that much of the lesson would be below the surface anyway.
While I objected to the recent decision of Harvard to exclude males from a gym, here, I find this decision highly offensive. It is one thing to exclude people based on gender and another thing entirely to force a girl to violate her religious beliefs as a condition to going to school. It is particularly abusive when we are talking about swimming lessons. The school could have easily reached a compromise, such as requiring the parents to certify lessons outside of school. As with the decision of France to ban veils, one can certainly understand why Muslims sense hostility from such decisions.
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