The decision of exempting Muslim students from shaking hands with their female teachers (a Swiss tradition) caused uproar in the country last month. The education authorities in the Northern Swiss municipality of Therwil in the canton of Basel-Country determined the controversial ruling should proceed. This was after two male students complained that shaking hands with their female teacher went against their religious beliefs.
To avoid any discrimination to female teachers, the two students were exempt from shaking hands with any teacher. The decision was made independently by the school with no support of authorities and it caused a national complain all across Switzerland where the tradition of shaking hands as a sign of respect is very rooted.
This is why, this Wednesday, the Swiss education authorities ruled the school’s determination stating that religious beliefs is not an excuse to refuse shaking a teacher´s hand. Parents of students who refuse to shake hands with a teacher will now face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,000).
"The public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners is far greater than that concerning the freedom of belief of students," authorities said in a statement.
Authorities also mentioned that this ruling automatically lifts the temporary exemption granted by the school in Therwil since last autumn. If any student in the mentioned school refuses to shake hands with their female teacher, they will be sanctioned according to the law.
The Swiss Justice Minister of Simonetta Somaruga has expressed that allowing boys to not shake hands with their female teachers was not her idea of integration.
Switzerland has a population of eight million people, which includes an estimated 350,000 Muslims. Similar controversies have risen in schools where Muslim parents demanded their daughters not to be included in swimming lessons, for which they were fined.