Boys must shake hands or pay $5000, Switzerland says
The Muslim students had refused to shake their female teachers’ hand on religious grounds (AFP / File)
Shaking hands now trumps religious freedom in Switzerland – or at least that’s what a recent ruling suggests.
Two Muslim students from Syria have been ordered by the Swiss education board that they must shake hands with their teacher, or pay a $5000 fine.The boys had refused to shake hands with their female teachers because they said their religious beliefs prohibited them from touching members of the opposite sex.
Their school previously accommodated their request while upholding importance of gender equality, by excusing the pupils from shaking hands with any teacher. But the incident created a scandal in Switzerland, where shaking hands with teachers is a fiercely defended pillar of national culture.
Education authorities ruled that the students would have to shake the hands of all their teachers – whether they were male or female – because “the public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion”. The citizenship process for the boys’ family – who claimed asylum in Switzerland – has also been delayed and put under greater scrutiny by the incident.
According to some interpretations of Islam touching members of the opposite sex is forbidden – a requirement which may apply to both men and women.