Jeremy Browne, a Liberal Democrat has said that the government should consider banning Muslims girls from wearing the veil (Niqab) in public places. He said that there needs to be a national debate about whether the state should step in to protect young women from having the veil “imposed” on them.
This comes after the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop a ban on the Muslim students from wearing full-face veils, which caused a public protest.
Mr Browne said he is “instinctively uneasy” about banning behaviour, but suggested the measure may still be necessary to ensure freedom of choice for girls in Muslim communities.
He told The Daily Telegraph, “People of liberal instincts will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice. 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.
“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 spoke as Nick Clegg prepared to speak at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow. Speaking at the conference today, Clegg said “I think one of the great things about our country is that we allow people to express their identity, their faith, the communities to which they belong in the way in which they dress.
“There are some exceptions clearly. I don’t for instance think it is appropriate to have the full veil through security checks at airports. I think there is an issue about teachers having the right to address their pupils and their students face-to-face and make face contact. But otherwise I really do think it is important that we protect the British principle that as long as people are law-abiding citizens going about their business in a law-abiding fashion, we shouldn’t be telling people what garments of clothing they can wear.”
People I have spoke to have said they think banning girls from wearing the veil is a form of religious discrimination. However, some think that girls under the age of 16, should not be wearing the veil because they are not at the age of fully understanding the reasons behind wearing it and agreeing with Mr Browne, they feel girls are often “imposed” to wear it.
What do you think? This debate is a controversial one but definitely something that people from all sides have a view on.