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Burkini swimsuit is 'compromise,' says German court

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A teenage Muslim girl adverse to swimming lessons with boys has lost her appeal before Germany's top administrative court. Judges have ruled that the wearing of a full-length "burkini" swimsuit satisfies Muslim norms.

A top German appeals court in Leipzig ruled on Wednesday that female Muslim pupils should take part in swimming lessons alongside boys at co-ed schools. A major school teachers' association said the ruling provides clarity for planning lessons.

The same court also dismissed an appeal by a Jehovah's Witness adherent who tried to prevent her son from having to watch the film "Krabat" during German-language lessons because it depicted so-called black magic.

In both cases the appeals court weighed up the German constitution's guarantee of individual religious freedom against the state's constitutional obligation to educate youngsters.

The 13-year-old Frankfurt pupil, with family links to Morocco, had argued that wearing the burkini would still make her feel ashamed and violated her freedom of religious practice. She also objected to seeing scantily-clad boys at the poolside.

"I am the only girl in my class who wears a headscarf," said the teenager, adding that she felt stigmatized.

Her lawsuit seeking exemption from swimming lessons had already been turned down by two lower courts in the surrounding state of Hesse.

Burkini represents 'compromise'

The presiding judge of the federal appeals court in Leipzig, Werner Neumann, said wearing the burkini – a swimsuit that covers all but the face, hands and feet – was a compromise that conformed to Muslim prescripts.

The Leipzig panel agreed with the two previous appeal rejections in Hesse, saying that seeing boys in swimwear amounted to only a slight breach of the young woman's religious freedom, because in Germany carefree loose dress was observed daily on street signage and during summer months.

Neumann stressed that school tuition in a pluralistic society could not take into consideration every religious concern. It would be impractical, he said.

"The result would be the widespread disintegration of lessons," Neumann said.

'Krabat' only depiction

In the second case, the court ruled that the film "Krabat" – a classic tale in German youth literature – did not amount to acquisition of "black magic" practices, but simply depicted them.

Schools had the obligation to pass on the intellectual-cultural heritage of society to the next generation. This task would be upturned by religious taboos, the court ruled.

VBE, the trade union federation representing 140,000 German primary and secondary school teachers said the court's rulings gave schools more surety in the planning of their lessons.


September 12 2013, 15:29

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