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« George P. signs on for eight-year tour of duty | Main | Re: If I Felt Better »

March 23, 2007

The right not to feel ’uncomfortable’

Niqab The New York Times reported recently that British authorities are considering a ban on full-face veils, or niqabs, worn by Muslim students in British schools.

British authorities proposed new rules on Tuesday to allow schools to forbid Muslim students to wear full-face veils in class, reflecting a wider debate over Britain’s relationship with its Muslim minority.

The recommendation was the latest episode in a saga of rancorous discussion of the full-face veil, known as the niqab. Last October, Prime Minister Tony Blair described the niqab as a “mark of separation” that made “other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable.”

The Department of Education published the new guidelines after a court in Buckinghamshire rejected a 12-year-old Muslim girl’s demand to wear the niqab in class last month.

The proposed regulations, which have yet to be formally adopted, said the individual right to “manifest a religion or belief” did not bestow a right to demonstrate faith “at any time, in any place or in any particular manner.”

What I find troublesome about this proposal is that all of the reasons given above for imposing the ban could be applied to adherents of any religion. For example, a Jewish boy could be forbidden to wear a yarmulke as it might cause a Gentile or Muslim boy to be "uncomfortable." Or a Christian might be sent home for wearing a cross or crucifix or icthus ring, because someone might feel like they were "out of the community."

Now, I do see some slim validity in the non-religious additional reasons for banning a full-face covering, such as a teacher's need to see the child's face to gauge class engagement and to be able to identify students and non-students for security purposes. (Apparently there was a recent incident in Britain where a male terrorism suspect was dressed in full female Muslim attire, including veiled face.)

But, doesn't restricting one religious group from the right to practice their religion in public have consequences for us all? What am I missing here?

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Greg Laurich

They're going to restrict religious rights with that legislation anyway so why should this be any different?

But as a future teacher I would want make sure that the student who was supposed to be there was actually there, after all if you can only see their eyes who is really sitting there taking that test or looking around the school...

David H

I don't think that the right to practice religion is connected to the wearing of a crucifix. I seek to live as a Christian but do not wear any outward signs that I am a Christian. Paul always spoke of the way we live, not what we wear, as being the outward demonstration of our faith. The British Government's proposals (I am British) are not about practice of religion but outward signs which may cause other problems (the niqab, it is suggested can be a barrier to communication. In no way are Moslems being prevented from practising their religion).

The issue you raised about the terrorist suspect being disguised in a veil was, I think related to an incident in which a policewoman was shot dead last year and one of the suspects is alleged to have fled Britain in a veil, and so was not detected.

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