The German Constitutional Court released their ruling on Wednesday, rejecting the case brought by a girl and her parents, who had refused to take swim classes at school because of religious reasons.
In the first half of the 2011-12 school year, the then 11-year-old fifth grader in Hesse had received a failing grade after she would not take part in a swim class with boys and girls together, and also would not wear a burqini – swimwear sometimes worn by Muslim women that covers the whole body. She had argued that the burqini, when wet, would still show the figure of her body.
She also felt bothered by being around her classmates while they were not fully clothed.
The girl’s parents had appealed to the school principal to have their daughter exempt, including a letter from a mosque with passages from the Koran. But the principal noted that they still could not explain why the girl could not wear Islamic sportswear, like the burqini.
During the second half of the year, the girl took part while wearing long trousers, a long-sleeve shirt and a headscarf.
The Constitutional Court rejected the girl’s case, mainly for reasons regarding flaws in her argument. In particular, the Court said that the girl had not sufficiently justified how wearing a burqini would be against her religion, and had herself acknowledged that there were “no binding rules in Islam” in this regard, the ruling stated.
The Court also said that the girl had not adequately argued against prior judgments by lower courts.
Furthermore, the it noted that the girl’s school had many Muslim students and it was not uncommon to see them partaking in swimming lessons while wearing burqinis.
The decision comes as the country continues to debate how certain aspects of the Islamic religion should be addressed in everyday life. Chancellor Angela Merkel, for instance, said on Tuesday that she is for a ban on the burqa wherever legally possible. Her party has proposed such a ban for places likes courts and police checks.
Merkel had also previously said that the burqa made it extremely difficult for Muslim women to integrate into the rest of society.
Earlier this year, a student at a night school in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony was told by a court that she could not attend classes while wearing a niqab – a garment which covers the whole body except for the eyes – due to the school's educational rights. A teachers’ union in response argued that banning such clothing in schools could further isolate Muslim female students.
The headscarf, or hijab, worn by some Muslim women has also been a source for court cases. Over the summer, a young Muslim lawyer took on the state of Bavaria and won after she had been told she could not wear a headscarf while performing certain legal duties.