The Conservative MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone has said that he will refuse to hold meetings with Muslim women wearing veils unless they lift them while talking with him. If they refuse to do this he says he will invite them to converse with him in a ‘different way’ such as by letter.
The MP said that as far as he was concerned, if the other person can see his face then he should see theirs.
Because of this he has been accused by Muslim groups of failing in his duty as an MP.
Mr Hollobone is also trying to bring forward a private member’s bill before the House to ban veiling of faces by the wearing of the Burqa and Niqab in public.
Liberty, the human rights group, has now written to Mr Hollobone and said “As an MP providing a service? the obligation under the Equality Act not to discriminate applies to you”. They went on to say that “ … they would be happy to represent any of your constituents that you refuse to meet because they are veiled”.
Under the 2006 Equality Act it is unlawful to discriminate either directly or indirectly on the basis of someone’s religious beliefs.
Liberty’s legal director, James Welch, said that although religion was a “perfectly legitimate subject for debate”, it could not be a basis for discrimination and that “ …. neither freedom nor integration is achieved by cutting people off from their elected representatives or arresting them for walking down the street.”
The UK is not the only country having issues over the covering of female faces for religious purposes. Turkey, Spain, France and Syria are recent examples of where this subject has led to heated debate. But we should not get distracted by what happens in these other countries.
It seems that Liberty has reduced the practicing of religion down to what clothes you wear, not what you do and say. If that is the case they must support the wearing of crucifixes with the same fervour. It should also require that men and women are treated equally, something that our own home grown religion cannot do with respect to female bishops.
The wearing of a veil by women says one of two things to me, either that I am not worthy of seeing their face, or that they are not worthy enough for me to look at. Either one is unacceptable in our 21st century ‘civilised’ society.
But is the wearing of a veil really about freedom for women to wear what they want? Or is it a reinforcement of a male dominated religious brainwashing of young girls? Liberty may be aiming at the wrong target.