A woman recently was sacked in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire because she insisted on wearing a niqab, a veil which covers all of the face except the eyes.
It was argued that she could not do her job because of the way she was dressing. Since she was teaching children who in learning with a teacher, examine the teacher’s face to get cues about their behaviour, their responses to questions, and the teacher’s intentions, it was argued that she could not adequately perform her duties.
But the real issue ought to be about religious symbolism being forced into the context of a classroom. Children in this environment have no alternative but to be confronted with a highly prominent symbol of devout faith in the context of their normal lessons. At the very least, it distracts their attention from the content of their normal lessons, and at worst involves them in discussions about the nature of devout faith in a religion.
That may well be acceptable to the wearer of the niqab, indeed it might be positively invited by the veil, but it should not be seen as acceptable in an educational context.
Given that she took part in the interview for her job in front of a mixed panel without wearing the niqab, one wonders what now makes it essential to wear it when teaching children. It looks as though, on practical educational grounds alone, she should not wear a face covering when teaching children. As for the overt expression of her religious beliefs, like any other such expression they should be outlawed in schools for all religions. And that goes for dog collars, kippas, crosses, and any other visible attempt to promote religion to children.
Just because someone wants to express their religion, that doesn't make it acceptable to do so in a position of authority and as a role model in front of children who at best, do not yet have the capability of establishing their own views. If we found people aiming to confront them daily with an expression of political beliefs using a clearly-identifiable symbol, we would rightly condemn it as an attempt at indoctrination.
But we should be clear that religion does not have a place in education and apply the same consistency to nun's habits, dog collars, kippas, and other religious symbols. The politicians are choosing the easy option to dismiss her on the grounds of covering her face, rather than the principled approach of protecting children from religious bias and indoctrination. After all, if they were to do that, they'd have to rethink their support for faith schools as a whole.