- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

A school board in northern Switzerland ruled Wednesday that Muslim boys who refuse to shake hands with their female teachers due to their Islamic beliefs can now be required to do so.

A public school in the northeastern Therwil municipality had temporarily exempted two Muslim boys from shaking hands with their female teachers due to their belief that they should only willingly touch a woman with the intent to marry her, The Telegraph reported.

The boys’ refusal sparked a national debate in Switzerland, where handshake greetings are tradition.

“The public interest concerning the equality of men and women as well as the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the pupils’ freedom of religion and belief,” the school board said in a statement. “The social gesture of shaking hands is important if pupils are to be prepared for working life.”

Under the decision, teachers at the school can require their students to take part in the custom. Refusal to comply could result in the parents being fined up to $5,000, The Telegraph reported.

The Central Islamic Council of Switzerland criticized the board for “grossly overstepping their competency,” arguing that the policy could alienate Muslim students. The group said it was ready to take legal action against any effort to apply the sanctions, The Telegraph reported.

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, however, agreed that refraining from handshakes would be “inappropriate” in Switzerland, especially since a key aspect of Islamic tradition is to be polite, The Telegraph reported.

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