Are burqa bans oppressive to religious freedom or a defense of the rights and dignity of women?
This week an Italian parliamentary commission approved a draft law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public. This sets Italy on course to join several other European nations with headscarf or burqa bans either already on the books or maneuvering through the legislative process. Are such garb prohibitions oppressive to religious freedom or do they in fact release Muslim women from an oppressive, medieval practice?
The idea that a religious practice can be condemned because it is medieval, old or antiquated should strike Christians, Jews, Muslims and adherents of other traditional faiths as an odd proposition. The antiquity of religious beliefs and practices is hardly a reason to disparage them.
Supporters of Italy's draft law against the Islamic veil argue that prohibiting the burqa and niqab eliminates the suppression of women who are forced to wear them. However, forcing all women not to wear a veil is hardly the appropriate way to counteract those who coerce some women to wear them.