Swiss weigh Muslims' refusal to shake female teachers' hands

A Swiss high school's decision to accept two Muslim boys' refusal for religious reasons to shake hands with their female teachers has triggered a debate in Switzerland, where handshake greetings have long been a gender-neutral tradition.

The public school in the northern town of Therwil, near Basel, recently accepted the teens' belief that they should only willingly touch the women they eventually marry. The school has sought legal advice from the Basel-Landschaft regional government on the matter.

Regional spokeswoman Deborah Murith said Wednesday that the decision centered on the balance between constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and gender equality.

European officials have long grappled with balancing civil and religious rights in a continent that was long dominated by Christianity but has faced an influx of Muslims in recent decades.