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.