Officials Should Have Power to Ban Veils, Church of England Bishop Says

Officials should have the power to ban veils that cover the face in public, a Church of England bishop said in comments published Sunday.

The Pakistani-born bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, urged Muslims not to wear the veil under some circumstances, continuing the debate in Britain over the traditional garment for Muslim women.

"It is fine if they want to wear the veil in private," he was quoted as saying by the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. "But there are occasions in public life when it is inappropriate for them to wear it."

Nazir-Ali said authorities should have the power to ban the veil in some situations, following reports that a man suspected of shooting a police officer may have escaped Britain recently dressed as a Muslim woman.

"Given that we are facing an unprecedented security situation, legislation needs to be introduced that allows officials to remove the veil," the bishop was quoted as saying.

The issue of veils has become increasingly contentious in Britain, home to 1.6 million Muslims.

The debate started after a Muslim teaching assistant at a school in West Yorkshire was suspended for refusing to remove her veil in the classroom earlier this year. School officials said her pupils found it hard to understand her. The woman was fired in November.

Jack Straw, Britain's former Foreign Secretary, said in October that he requested - but did not insist - that Muslim women remove full veils during one-on-one meetings.

Bishop Nazir-Ali has criticised the veil before. Last month he told the Sunday Times that covering one's face was sometimes inappropriate.

"I can see nothing in Islam that prescribes the wearing of a full-face veil," he said. "In the supermarket, those at the cash tills need to be recognised. Teaching is another context in which society requires recognition and identification."