Roman Catholic secondary schools in Ireland have imposed a ban on Muslim girls covering their faces with a full veil.
Published: 3:24PM BST 24 Sep 2010
Teachers have been told in guidelines that Muslims would not be permitted to wear the niqab, the garment covering the entire body except for slits across the eyes. The guidance, circulated in Ireland by bishops among more than 450 schools this week, said that although staff should respect the religious rights of non-Catholics, it was “unsatisfactory for a teacher not to be able to see and engage properly with a pupil whose face was covered”.
“No pupil or staff member should be prevented from wearing a religious symbol or garment in accordance with their tradition, for example, the hijab [headscarf] for Muslim girls and the turban for Sikh boys,” said the document called “Guidelines on the Inclusion of Students of Other Faiths in Catholic Secondary Schools”.
“Freedom of religious expression is a basic human right and is in keeping with the Catholic understanding of its identity as being a universal Church,” the guidelines say. “On the other hand, the wearing of a full veil over a girl’s face [niqab], for example, is a more challenging issue.” The guidelines advise teachers to explain the prohibition in the presence of the head or senior teacher to parents of any pupils who wanted to wear the veil. Staff are told that they would be right to demand that a pupil’s mother remove her own veil during such a meeting as long as no men are present.
The guidelines also recommend that parents are made aware of uniform policy before children arrive at schools. In many cases, they say, uniform policy would involve an obligation to wear the school’s crest on a blazer even if this included an image of a cross or other Christian symbols.
The guidelines were published after a number of head teachers asked the bishops for advice on how to work with pupils from other religions while maintaining their Catholic ethos. Their publication signals the hardening across the European Union towards the wearing of the veil, with France the latest country to forbid the practice.
In Britain, Catholics schools have already strongly discouraged the wearing of the veil and last year a Muslim teacher was prevented from visiting St Mary’s Catholic College in Blackburn, Lancashire, because she refused to take off her niqab.
Months earlier, a Muslim mother was turned away from a parents’ evening at Our Lady and St John Catholic Arts College, Blackburn, for the same reason.
The Irish guidelines, like those published in England and Wales in 2008, also recommend that places be set aside in schools were Muslim pupils can pray daily.