If Boris Johnson hadn’t generated a media tornado this week with his burkas resemble letterboxes comment I would not have known that Denmark recently banned people from wearing face veils in public. I find it odd that everyone is focussing on the letterbox comment, which I found funny, rather than the more concerning issue which is the violation of a person’s right to wear what they want. In this regard I agree with Boris: women should be free to wear what they want, no matter how ridiculous we think they look.
A history lesson might be useful here. In 1746 Scottish boys and men were banned from wearing tartan or a kilt. The punishment for the first offence was 6 months in prison and for subsequent offences, seven years in an overseas colony. Six months in jail just for wearing a kilt!
That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending … For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.
It’s wrong to ban people from wearing a garment when it causes no harm to anyone else and the burka harms no-one. It’s also wrong to censor free speech for reasons of offence. We live in a society with freedom of religious expression but we’re also free to criticise those religions and we shouldn’t be afraid to do so, even when it might cause offence to others. Offence is not a sufficient reason for censorship.