GENEVA (Web Desk) – Muslim students in Switzerland can no longer refuse to shake a teacher’s hand on religious grounds, and could be fined up toup to CHF5,000 ($5,050) for doing so by the Basel canton body for education, culture and sport, said Swiss news website swissinfo.ch.
“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake,” said the Basel cantonal body in a statement.
Swiss regional authorities on Wednesday, reversed one school’s controversial decision to grant exemptions for Muslim students wary of touching the opposite sex for religious reasons.
The decision comes after a national uproar over revelations that a school in Therwil allowed two brothers, aged 14 and 15, to refuse shaking their teachers’ hands on religious grounds.
Shaking the hand of teacher before and after class is a common practice in Swiss schools.
The students argued that Islam does not permit physical contact with a person of the opposite sex, with the exception of certain immediate family members.
To avoid effectively permitting discrimination against female teachers, the school decided to exempt the boys from shaking hands with any of their teachers, regardless of sex.
That decision – made independently by the school in the northwest Therwil municipality without involvement of the canton’s authorities or local officials – triggered an outcry across Switzerland.
“The public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners is far greater than that concerning the freedom of belief of students,” authorities said.
Wednesday’s ruling means that the school’s temporary rule, in place since the academic year started last autumn, will be lifted, the Basel canton authority’s statement said.
Parents or guardians of students who refuse to shake a teacher’s hand in the northern Swiss canton of Basel-Country could now face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,000, 4,500 euros), regional education authorities ruled.
If the two students at the heart of the controversy once again refuse to shake hands, “the sanctions called for by law will be applied,” it said.
Switzerland’s population of eight million people includes an estimated 350,000 Muslims.
Previously, similar disputes had centered on Muslim parents who demanded that their daughters be exempt from swimming lessons, a case that led to the parents being fined.
Muslim families have, however, secured victories in court against schools which sought to ban the full face veil.