Two Muslim girls who refused to take mixed-gender swimming lessons at school have been denied Swiss citizenship, in a move that reflects Switzerland's imperative that candidates for citizenship must assimilate with Swiss culture.
The girls, aged 12 and 14, said that their religion would not allow them to take part in swimming lessons where males are present in the pool; the lessons, however, are compulsory at the school located in Basel, reports The New York Times.
Local authorities rejected the girls' applications for citizenship because they said that they have failed to comply with the school's curriculum. The applications now will not be sent on to state and federal authorities to be processed.
"Whoever doesn’t fulfill these conditions violates the law and, therefore, cannot be naturalized," Naturalization Committee President Stefan Wehrle told TV station SRF, according to USA Today.
In Switzerland, unlike the U.S., assimilating into society is the most important factor when citizenship applications are reviewed, as opposed to knowledge of the country's history or politics.
In April, an immigrant family in Basel was denied citizenship because they wore sweatpants around town and did not greet others in the neighborhood when they crossed paths - habits which the naturalization committee said were sufficient to prove that they were not assimilated.
Another case in April led to two Muslim brothers having their citizenship applications suspended because they wouldn't shake hands with female teachers. The boys, 15 and 16, refused to shake hands with their female teachers because they said that physical contact with a woman outside of their family would be a violation of their religion.
While local education authorities initially exempted the two boys from the custom of shaking teachers' hands, including male teachers to avoid discrimination, Swiss politicians criticized the move and the incident sparked a debate on religious freedom.
Wehrle said that the current case involving the two girls is the first to deny citizenship applications for failure to comply with a school program, which will set a precedent for future cases.