Netherlands bans niqab from colleges

The Netherlands plans to ban face coverings worn by some Muslim women from universities, not only for students but also mothers and anyone else entering the grounds, the Education Ministry said Wednesday.

Education Minister Ronald Plasterk said in parliament that the planned ban, initially intended to apply only to the compulsory schooling system, would now also extend to tertiary education institutions, his spokesman told Agence France Presse. It would apply to pupils, teachers, cleaners and parents – all women who come through the gates of such institutions, said spokesman Freek Manche. “It will forbid any kind of garment that covers the face. The intention is to ensure that all people who communicate with each other on school grounds are able to look each other in the eye, to see each other’s faces,” he said.

Plasterk had initially intended the ban on garments such as the burka and nikab only for schools, citing the importance of children being able to recognize and identify others. “If you want to be present there (at school) as service provider, as parent, as teacher or as pupil, then you will have to let your face show,” the minister said when he initially announced the restrictions in September. “Freedom of religion must be weighed against the freedom of children to go to school in an environment where they can see each other’s faces.”

He hadn’t originally wanted to extend the ban to tertiary education, said the minister’s spokesman, “because this level of education is not compulsory. These are adults.” However, Plasterk had to adapt his plans on the insistence of a majority in parliament.

AFP, 26 November 2008