The government should consider banning young Muslim women from wearing the veil in public places, a Liberal Democrat minister said. Home Secretary Jeremy Browne has called for a nationwide debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women from having the veil imposed on them. His intervention came after an argument broke out over Birmingham Metropolitan College’s decision to drop the ban on full-face veils amid public protests.
Browne said it was “instinctively uncomfortable” to restrict religious freedoms, but said it might be justified to act to protect girls too young to decide for themselves whether or not they wished to wear the veil.
“I think this is a good topic for a national debate. People of liberal instinct will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice,” he told the Daily Telegraph. âI am instinctively uncomfortable restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply as much to Christian minorities in the Middle East as it does to religious minorities here in Britain.
“But there is a real debate about whether girls should feel pressured to wear a veil when society considers children unable to express personal choices in other areas like buying alcohol. , smoke or marry. We must be very careful before imposing religious conformity on a society that has always valued free speech. “
Browne, who attends his party’s annual conference in Glasgow, is believed to be the first senior Lib Dem to voice such concerns in public. However, there are signs his views are shared by a number of Tory MPs, who have been dismayed at the way the Birmingham Metropolitan College case has been handled.
The director general of the Ramadhan Foundation, Mohammed Shafiq, said he was “disgusted” by Browne’s comments.
“This is another example of the double standards that are applied to Muslims in our country by some politicians,” he said.
âWhatever their religion, they should be free to practice it according to their own choice and any attempt by the government to ban Muslim women will meet strong resistance from the Muslim community.
“We are very proud of the UK’s values ââof individual liberty and religious freedom and any attempt by illiberal politicians to dictate to Muslim women what to wear will be challenged.
He added: “I call on the Liberal Democrats to disown these illiberal comments by Jeremy Browne and ensure that no government with Lib Dem involvement comes forward with this stupid bill. If they don’t. , they will suffer the consequences during the next general elections of Muslim voters.
“We would expect these kinds of comments from far-right, authoritarian politicians and not from someone who supposedly believes in liberal values ââand freedom.”
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said the veils were “deeply offensive” and “made women invisible” and called for a niqab ban in schools and colleges.
Writing in the Telegraph, she said: “It would be a perverse distortion of freedom if we knowingly allowed the restriction of communication in the very schools and colleges that should equip girls with skills for the modern world. We must not. abandon our cultural belief that women should participate fully and equally in society.