Two Muslim girls, 12 and 14, have been denied Swiss citizenship after refusing to participate in their school’s co-ed swimming lessons. It’s the latest example of Switzerland rejecting applicants who don’t subscribe to an officially sanctioned idea of Swiss culture.
The two girls, who live in Basel, were reportedly rejected for not adhering to school curriculum. Their religion prevented them from being in the pool with boys. According to Swiss media, the incident happened last year, but was only publicized this week.
Swiss authorities say the rejection could set precedent for future cases. To receive Swiss citizenship, it’s not enough to show long-term residency, fluency in one of the country’s three official languages and knowledge of its history and geography. Applicant must also show they are integrated with Swiss society and their local community. Getting the approval of local authorities, who decide which applications to send to state and federal officials, is the first step—or hurdle—in the naturalization process.
Just weeks before Switzerland rebuffed the two teenager girls, in May, a Kosovar family that had lived in a small Swiss village for a decade was rejected for not being Swiss enough. According to The Local, all four family members spoke German, and proved they knew local customs and geography. Local villagers objected that they did not greet people on the street, and walked around town in sweatpants.
A Syrian family’s citizenship bid was suspended in April after its two teenage boys refused to shake hands with a female teacher, a tradition in Swiss schools, citing religious reasons. The case caused an uproar in the country, provoking comments such as that of the justice minister, Simonetta Sommaruga, who said that shaking hands is “is part of [Swiss] culture.”
On Wednesday, in a separate case, a father of Muslim girls was fined $4,000 for refusing to let his daughters participate in swimming lessons.