No handshake exemption for Muslim pupils, Swiss canton rules

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Updated 25 May 2016

No handshake exemption for Muslim pupils, Swiss canton rules

GENEVA: Religious belief is no excuse for refusing to shake a teacher’s hand, Swiss regional authorities ruled Wednesday, reversing one school’s controversial decision to grant exemptions for Muslim pupils wary of touching the opposite sex.
Parents or guardians of pupils 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.
“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake,” they said in a statement.
The decision comes after a national uproar over revelations last month that a middle school allowed two brothers, aged 14 and 15 with Syrian nationality, not to shake their teachers’ hands after they complained that doing so was counter to their religious beliefs if the teacher was a woman.
They 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, where the tradition of students shaking their teachers’ hands as a sign of respect is deeply entrenched.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, who was among the many senior officials and public figures who weighed in on the matter, insisted on Swiss public television last month that “shaking hands is part of our culture.”

Gender equality vs. religious freedom
Explaining Wednesday’s ruling, authorities said “the public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners far outweighs that concerning the freedom of belief of students.”
The school, which amid the uproar had turned to the cantonal authorities for guidance, said it was “relieved” at Wednesday’s ruling.
“Now there is clarity on how to proceed,” it said in a statement, adding that it would lift the temporary exemption in place since school began last autumn.
“This decision has recently been communicated to the family,” it said.
The cantonal authorities pointed out that 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.
The public focus on the case has already landed the family in difficulty, after media revealed they were seeking to become Swiss.
Cantonal authorities last month announced that naturalization proceedings had been put on hold.
The father of the two boys, an imam based in Basel and a Syrian national, moved to Switzerland in 2001 and was granted asylum.
Basel’s migration office was seeking more information about the circumstances under which the father’s asylum request was approved.
On Wednesday, authorities said one member of the family, whose identity was not revealed, had received a warning over “incitement to violence,” which could have consequences for the naturalization process.
Switzerland’s population of eight million people includes an estimated 350,000 Muslims.
Previous similar disputes have 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.


Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

Updated 45 min 3 sec ago

Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

  • Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm
  • Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients

PARIS:  Paris officials announced Tuesday that they would ban daytime jogging to keep people from bending anti-coronavirus lockdown rules, after France recorded its biggest daily jump in the death toll from the outbreak.
Under nationwide stay-at-home orders that came into force on March 17, people can leave their homes only for essential purposes, which until now included a solo walk or run within a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) radius of home.
But amid a spell of sunny spring weather, large groups of Parisians were seen running, walking and congregating over the weekend, even as police stepped up patrols and issued fines for lockdown violations.
Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm.
Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Monday urged municipal officials to toughen restrictions if necessary.
“Every excursion avoided aids the fight against the epidemic,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and police chief Didier Lallement said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the Atlantic coastal resort city of Biarritz limited the period people can sit on benches or in other public areas to two minutes maximum, saying confinement meant that “dawdling is prohibited.”
Paris, Biarritz and other cities have already closed public parks and gardens as part of the nationwide lockdown that requires people to carry a document justifying any excursion from the home.
Those caught without the document risk a fine starting at €135 ($147).
In the north of France, the mayor of Marcq-en-Baroeul has made spitting in public, coughing or sneezing without covering one’s face, and throwing used masks and gloves in the street punishable by a fine of 68 euros.
The tougher rules came after Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Monday a record daily coronavirus death toll of 833 people in 24 hours.
“It is not over,” the minister said, urging people to “stay at home and continue this confinement effort.”
Like many other nations, France debated Tuesday the merits of encouraging, or compelling, people to wear face masks to prevent asymptomatic virus-carriers from passing it on to others.
Veran said Tuesday that it remained an “open question” that required further scientific investigation.
France’s Academy of Medicine, which advises the government on epidemics, has advocated mask-wearing as an aid in curbing the outbreak, but international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) disagree.
But Hidalgo said in a radio interview Tuesday that she would not oblige face mask use for now, though she did encourage people to cover their faces in public.
France’s finance ministry, meanwhile, said dozens of companies have produced 3.9 million fabric masks for non-medical professional use in the past week, and will produce 6.6 million more in the days to come.
The country’s Order of Pharmacists and two labor unions urged the government, meanwhile, to allow pharmacies to sell “alternative” non-medical grade masks to members of the public as an added protection.
The WHO said Monday that asking the general public to wear face masks could be justified in areas where hand-washing and physical distancing were difficult, but warned that masks alone could not stop the pandemic.