Failure to shake hands now a crime in Switzerland

About 10 years ago, MPR had an open house to show off its new headquarters and I was pleased to talk to the many people who traveled from all over the state to have a look.

I was having a great conversation with a woman and when it ended, I thanked her for listening to MPR and stuck out my hand. She said she could not shake my hand, however, because her religion prevented her from doing so.

I felt pretty embarrassed; I think she felt worse. We are all clumsily making our way through the process of understanding one another’s culture. Some of us are more clumsy than others.

That’s why this story today struck a chord in the NewsCut cubicle. In Switzerland, it will be illegal not to shake a teacher’s hand, according to the BBC.

“Shaking hands is part of our culture,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said after a regional authority ruled that teachers have a right to a handshake.

Two Syrian brothers, both in their teens, avoided the tradition in middle school because it was against their religious beliefs.

That’s when it became a federal case.

The family’s citizenship process was halted and the government was reviewing the process under which the boys’ father — an imam — was granted asylum in Switzerland.

Regional authorities ruled today “the public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners far outweighs that concerning the freedom of belief of students”.

In the future, parents or guardians of children who refuse to shake hands could be fined up to $5,000.