Fears over school ban of Muslim head gear
A ban on Muslim head gear in schools could spark a rift with minority communities, an intercultural affairs expert has warned.
Introducing rules against the hijab head scarf or other religious symbols is "likely to result in tension with those communities where no tension existed before," said the director of the State's advisory body on intercultural affairs, Philip Watt.
During the debate over whether Muslim pupils should be allowed wear the headscarf in State schools, Mr Watt, who sits on the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, said most schools had already found their own "sensible and sensitive compromise".
He explained that the majority of schools allowed the head scarf to be worn provided it was the same colour as the school uniform.
Mr Watt argued that it made sense for boards of management to continue to decide on future policy, with some non-prescriptive guidance from the Department of Education.
He stressed that allowing the hijab did not mean that all religious symbols and obligations should necessarily be allowed.
Schools have to consider health and safety and the need to maintain effective communication in classes when they were deciding whether or not to allow the various religious symbols.
Most of the focus of the debate had been on the Muslim headscarf but other religious symbols were worn in Irish schools, including the Sikh kara (a bangle), the Sikh patka (a scarf worn by boys and young men), the Jewish kippah or skullcap and Christian crucifixes. The pioneer badge, the sacred heart and crucifixes are worn by some teachers.
"The banning of religious symbols or obligations solely aimed at one religious community or indeed all religious faiths is potentially discriminatory and likely to be tested in Irish law," Mr Watt said.
"In 2004 the French government considered the issuing of a ban on the wearing of the hijab in French schools, but after legal considerations decided that the only way that such a ban would be legal would be to ban virtually all religious symbols and obligations, including large crucifixes."