It’s widespread practice for schoolchildren in Switzerland to shake the hands of their teacher at the beginning and end of each day. Now, one school’s decision to exempt two children from this tradition – because the children are Muslim and their teacher is a woman – has caused a storm of controversy across the European state.
The two pupils at the school in the town of Therwil, near Basel, had requested an exemption from shaking a female teacher’s hand, citing their belief that it would go against Islamic teachings. The local school district later came up with what they felt was an acceptable compromise that could avoid discrimination: The pupils, who are aged 14 and 15, would not be required to shake any teacher’s’ hands, whether they were male or female.
However, the plan hit a hitch when the Schweiz am Sonntag reported on it, sparking a public debate about the compromise. “We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom,” Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said in an interview with Swiss-German broadcaster SRF. “The handshake is part of our culture.”
Others agreed. “Today’s it’s the handshake and what will it be tomorrow?” Felix Mueri, a member of the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party and head of the Swiss parliament’s education commission, said in an interview with the 20 Minuten news site.
Both the Swiss Teacher’s Union and the local Therwil council have also come out against the plan. However, the school itself has defended the decision, despite the controversy. “They are no longer allowed to shake the hand of any teacher, male or female,” headmaster Jurg Lauener told SRF, “For us, that addresses the question of discrimination.”
So what should the Swiss school do? Get rid of their custom? Expel the students? Provide home schooling? Don’t allow the student to shake anyone’s hand?
How does the handshake differ from Jehovah’s Witness children not saying the Pledge? That is part of our customs in most schools. The difference is, it is possible to exempt Jehovah’s Witnesses without allowing discrimination. The Muslim refusal to shake hands with a woman faculty member is discrimination by Swiss standards.
I think I would call those parents in and explain that not accepting discrimination trumps their religious freedom. Are other Muslim boys complaining about this practice? It sounds like these two are outliers and that their protest is a bid for attention.
If the parents don’t like it, expel the kids.
Further reading BBC.com
Addendum: I can’t think of a custom I would hate more. Can you imagine the germs? Yuck!!!!!