Sweden’s education authority rejects blanket ban on veils in schools

Sweden’s education agency on Wednesday rejected a blanket ban on veils but said that teachers had in some situations the right to ban students from wearing them.

A general ban on Islamic garments such as the full-face niqab or full-body burqa could be considered a violation of religious freedom, the National Agency for Education said. The agency had been asked to clarify its guidelines on in which situations it was possible to ban facial coverings.

Lessons in which students could be required to remove veils included those involving laboratory experiments or metal and machinery work, the agency said.

Education Minister Jan Bjorklund, who had proposed a ban on any kind of facial covering, welcomed the agency’s statement and repeated his view that education is based on an interaction between teacher and students, and it was necessary to be able see each others’ faces.

The Equality Ombudsman said the agency’s statement was in line with its own view. But Metta Fjelkner, the head of the National Union of Teachers which represents 80,000 teachers, said it was a pity the responsibility had been laid on individual teachers, saying such decisions could be “divisive”.

DPA, 11 January 2012

Update:  A report in The Local (“Sweden’s teachers free to ban Islamic veils”) puts a different slant on the education agency’s decision. It quotes a spokesperson for the Left Party as saying: “This is a bad ruling, which means that it will be up to each individual teacher to determine if you have the right to an education or not. That’s a basic right for everyone, regardless of which religious background you have.”