It is not appropriate for students to wear a full veil in the classroom or for people to go through airport security with their faces covered, Nick Clegg has said. But the deputy prime minister said he did not want to see a state ban on the wearing of religious items of clothing in particular circumstances. His comments came as a Liberal Democrat minister said the government should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing the veil in public places.
The Home Office minister Jeremy Browne called for a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed upon them. His intervention was sparked by a row over the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop a ban on the wearing of full-face veils amid public protests. Browne said he was “instinctively uneasy” about restricting religious freedoms, but he added there may be a case to act to protect girls who were too young to decide for themselves whether they wished to wear the veil or not.
He told the Daily Telegraph. There is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.
“This is a free country and people going about their own business should be free to wear what they wish. I think it is very un-British to start telling people what pieces of clothing they should wear.
“I think there are exceptions to that as far as the full veil is concerned – security at airports, for instance. It is perfectly reasonable for us to say the full veil is clearly not appropriate there. And I think in the classroom, there is an issue, of course, about teachers being able to address their students in a way where they can address them face-to-face. I think it is quite difficult in the classroom to be able to do that.”
The Tory backbencher Dr Sarah Wollaston said the veils were “deeply offensive” and were “making women invisible”, and called for the niqab to be banned in schools and colleges.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was disgusted by Browne’s calls to consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing the veil in public places.” This is another example of the double standards that are applied to Muslims in our country by some politicians,” he said. Adding: “We would expect these sorts of comments from the far right and authoritarian politicians and not from someone who allegedly believes in liberal values and freedom.”