Shake your teacher’s hand or pay $5000 fine: Switzerland
Regional authorities in Switzerland have ruled that if Muslim students refuse to shake their teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of lessons, their parents will face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs (around $5,000).
The new ruling overturned a controversial decision by a school in northern Therwil municipality, in the district of Arlesheim in the canton of Basel-Country, to grant exemptions from handshakes to two teenage brothers who were unwilling to touch a member of the opposite sex.
The school’s original decision to find a compromise and exempt the two brothers from the custom received a considerable media attention and sparked a heated national debate in the country last month, making the school turn to regional authorities to settle the matter.
“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake,” the authorities said in a Wednesday statement.
They added in the statement that “the public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners far outweighs that concerning the freedom of belief of students”.
The cantonal authorities said if the two, aged 14 and 15, continue to refuse to shake hands “the sanctions called for by law will be applied.”
The Syrian boys are sons of an imam based in Basel who moved to Switzerland in 2001 and was granted asylum. They said they informed education officials that physical contact with women who are not family members is not permissible in their faith.
The boys told Swiss media that requiring them to shake hands with teachers is discriminatory saying that “nobody could force them” to shake hands with a woman, and that they “could not just delete their culture as if it were a hard drive”.
However, Swiss politicians insisted on the handshake with Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga saying that “shaking hands is part of [Swiss] culture.”
Georges Thuring, the president of the commission that oversees local citizenship applications, has said, “I don’t think we can talk of integration in relation to handshake objectors. Personally, I would reject their request.”
The migration office in the canton of Basel-Country has also said that the naturalization process for the family is halted, adding that it was seeking more information about the circumstances under which the boys’ father’s asylum request was approved.
Basel-Country spokesman Adrian Baumgartner has confirmed a report from the country’s national press agency ATS on the suspension.
Previous similar disputes have happened before in Switzerland when some Muslim parents were fined after demanding their daughters be exempted from swimming lessons but some schools have also been forbidden from enforcing the full face veil.