I like Harry’s last paragraph:
But the fact that the regulations might drive a girl into an educational situation in which her religious beliefs will not be challenged or tested seems to me a reason for bending, or revising the rules, not a consideration in their favour. The parents’ enthusiasm that their child should attend a state comprehensive school is to their credit. Telling them that they should school her religiously or at home doesn’t seem very helpful to me.
The state should not be in a situation where it is encouraging the ghetto-ization of a community. However, I think the school has made adequate provisions for students who believe that they have to cover to meet the needs of their faith, within the context of mandatory school uniforms. I think it’s important to note that the salwar kameez and jilbab are ethnic dress that take on religious overtones and are not religious dress in the same way a cassock is. They are culturally conditioned expressions of faith. If the school is 80% Muslim as the article indicates, the dress code is satisfactory for the majority of Muslim students. In the US, parents would move to a different school district if the schools were not meeting their needs and desires for an educational institution. My understanding of the UK system is that secondary schools do operate independently with respect to dress code and certain aspects of the curriculum. If the issue of dress is so important, because the matter of the child’s faith is so important, the parents do have a choice. The school’s policy is not a nation-wide policy, and the policy reflects the expectations of the surrounding community. To frame the debate as the state denying the girl’s right to practice her faith is duplicitous in my opinion, and does not actually further the debate on the integration of newly immigrated Muslims to the UK.
[tangent]Al-Muhajabah has a piece on the hijab in the Olympics, and in it she links to some of her thoughts on appropriate covering.[/tangent]