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Religious Face Coverings

Religious face coverings have been a controversial issue in not only Canada, but worldwide as well.

Religious face coverings have been a controversial issue in not only Canada, but worldwide as well. There is controversy surrounding whether or not face coverings are an insult to women's equality, and whether or not religious face coverings should be kept out of the workplace, and in other public situations such as court cases in which someone wearing a face covering is involved in the hearing or trial.

As attempts are being made to 'remove' Christmas and other religious holidays from schools in order to create equality and to avoid offending or excluding various religions, should attempts also be made to remove religious symbolism from the workforce?

The issue of Muslim veils such as the body-covering burka, niqab have been debated worldwide. The debates centre around religious freedom, female equality, secular tradition, and even fears of terrorism. In France, the wearing of veils has been banned in schools, government offices, public transport, hospitals, and schools. Belgium, Holland, and various other European countries have banned wearing the burka in public, while other countries have instilled limitations with veils, such as not allowing them at hospitals, or on public transportation.

Not only are face coverings a topic of conversation, but turbans as well. Should turbans, often worn by people in or from the Middle East, North Africa, Punjab, Jamaica, and Southwest Asia, be allowed in the workplace or during public proceedings such as court trials, as previously mentioned?

I have seen a man doing work in road construction wearing a large turban upon his head, with his hard hat atop the turban. Not only is it a question of using religious symbolism at work, but it's also a question of safety. How is this man's head protected by a hardhat sitting atop headgear? Proper safety gear is a regulation of many companies, and one that should be strictly adhered to. Protocol would have it that employees have a hard hat that is safety-certified and fits the wearer, and it seems to me that wearing a turban beneath would be a violation of that safety rule. The hard hat isn't even protecting his head; it's protecting his turban. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the hard hat still offers the same amount of protection as it would sans turban, but it seems less safe to me.

On Dec. 12, 2011, it was announced in Canada that Muslim women would have to remove religious face coverings before they would be able to recite the oath of citizenship to become Canadians.

Recently, controversy is surrounding a case with the Supreme Court of Canada. A woman who has filed a sexual assault case wants to testify in court while wearing her niqab. For the purpose of cross-examination, the defendants counter that they should be able to see facial expressions, which I completely agree with.

Often in a court case, facial expressions are noted, and have importance. Experts in the field will study facial expressions to determine if the facial expressions imply innocence or guilt, and can play a huge part in the juror's decision, or in moves made by other players in the case.

While some may feel that it goes against their religion to abandon their face coverings during a trial, is it honestly fair to allow a witness, complainant, or defendants face to be hidden?

In 2010, the Quebec government tabled Bill 94, which has not been passed, but would prohibit women in government agency jobs from wearing the religious face coverings.

Is it disrespectful of religion to ask that religious face coverings be banned from the workplace, or from public places, or is it socially disrespectful for the wearers of religious face coverings to hide their faces in a country with different ideas of social convention? Some people may not feel comfortable in the presence of masked individuals, it presents a fear of the unknown, and the inability to identify a person, but on the other hand, perhaps a Muslim may not feel comfortable without the traditional face covering.

In Canada we value freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but what are the limitations? Another thing that is important to mention, is that wearing of the niqab or burka is not a religious practice, but a cultural one. The Qur'an does not state that Muslim women must wear a niqab or burka, though Muslims will say mean and women must dress moderately, which can be done without covering the face entirely.

Furthermore, many feel that the 'requirement' of Muslim women to wear face coverings is an insult to women's equality, and a step backward. Many women may only wear the face coverings out of fear, or because the feel forced, or to abide by tradition without causing controversy. Could prohibiting religious face coverings be a relief to those women?

It's a very controversial debate with many sides to the issue, as it is with any issue involving religion.