The decision comes as Europe has been struggling to integrate migrants, many from majority-Muslim countries where religious and social mores, particularly around gender and sexuality, can be at odds with liberal and secular norms of the societies where they have sought refuge.
Far-right political parties with anti-immigrant bents, from the National Front in France to the Danish People’s Party in Denmark and the Swiss People’s Party in Switzerland, have argued that too many Muslims have not managed to assimilate.
In May, the authorities in the canton of Basel-Landschaft – which is next to the canton of Basel-Stadt, where the swimming case occurred – ruled that two Syrian immigrant brothers, who studied at a public school in the small town of Therwil, could not refuse to shake their teacher’s hand on religious grounds.
Their refusal to do so had provoked a national uproar. The challenge of integrating immigrants has spilled over into culture, and, at times, helped fan a simmering culture war.
In Denmark, pork meatballs and other pork dishes that are popular staples became part of a debate on national identity last year after the central Danish town of Randers voted in January to require public day care centers and kindergartens to include the meat on their lunch menus.
Supporters of the proposal said that serving traditional Danish food such as pork was essential to help preserve national identity. Critics said the proposal did nothing more than stigmatize Muslims, who had made no attempts to ban pork from school menus.
Germany was shaken during New Year’s Eve in Cologne in 2015 when young men, many of them of North African origin, committed sexual assaults during the street celebrations there. The attacks became an uncomfortable symbol of the challenges of integration in the country.
In France, the clash between secularism and religious conservatism came into sharp relief this summer when nearly 30 towns, mainly in the country’s southeast, introduced burkini bans, suggesting that the garments impinged upon French culture and way of life.