A Liberal Democrat minister says the government should consider banning Muslim women and girls from wearing a face veil in schools and public places.
Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne said there should be a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women being forced to wear the Muslim veil.
His comments follow the decision last week by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop its ban on students wearing a niqab, or full-face veil, amid protests from students and the wider public.
Also on Monday, a judge at Blackfriars Crown Court is expected to make a decision on whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear a niqab while standing trial.
Mr Browne said he was “instinctively uneasy” about restricting religious freedoms. But he added that 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.
‘Imposing religious conformity’
“I think this is a good topic for national debate. People of liberal instincts will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.
Whatever one’s religion they should be free to practise it according to their own choices
– Mohammed Shafiq
“But 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.
“We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression.”
Mr Browne is believed to be the first Liberal Democrat to voice such views. But some Conservatives had waded into the debate during the row over the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College.
Tory backbencher Dr Sarah Wollaston said the veils were “deeply offensive” and were “making women invisible”. David Cameron had said that he was not against banning the veil, but added that it was a matter for headteachers to decide for themselves.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was “disgusted” by Mr 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.
“Whatever one’s religion they should be free to practise it according to their own choices and any attempt by the government to ban Muslim women will be strongly resisted by the Muslim community.
See on www.channel4.com