Im not usually one to go along with the Tories (or the Daily Mail), but they may have a point with the issue of the wearing of veils by public service employees.
Firstly, there is the practical measures. Seeing someones face is important. Facial expressions are an important part of communication. Furthermore youve issues with muffled voices from behind a veil, a problem for people with hearing problems particularly as some rely on lip reading. Im quite sure Elf NSafety would have something to say about that, particularly in a hospital where a miss-communication could mean the difference between life and death.
Obviously, in my trade (engineering) such clothing would be out of the question (restricted vision? rotating machinery? high voltage electricity? Do I need to go on?). Personally, I also use facial expressions as a cue as to whether or not the students are actually paying attention, or if Ive completely lost them (admittedly, Im not always good at reading this, but Id be even worse if I couldnt see faces!).
Secondly, I would also highlight the other impracticalities of dressing up like this in the UK. I mean were a cold damp climate, I cant think of anything worse to do than go around in a large piece of cotton, you may as well sit in a bath full of ice cubes come winter! And I once saw a woman with a veil trying to eat with it on in a restaurant, it was clearly impractical, as she ended up getting half of it all over herself! Indeed, even Oman has banned women wearing full length veils from driving on health and safety grounds (due to the restricted vision).
Thirdly, there is the issue of secular government. If a Catholic manager of a NHS hospital introduced a policy requiring a halt to all activity at noon for the angelus, I think we can guess the reaction. Or if we brought back morning prayers and bible studies in state schools? What would Muslims say about that? The state has to be, not only secular and neutral on the nature of religion, but they need to be seen to be so. And that means if you want to practice a religion, good for you, but do it in your own time.
Now Muslims will say, oh but its our religious tradition…is it? The evidence is that the veil actually predates Islam. There is a difference of opinion as to whether the practice originated in the Assyrian Harems (intended to stop plebs gopping at his lordships totty!) or within the (Christian) Byzantium aristocracy (it was practiced by both, but which is closer to its adoption in Islam is disputed). Indeed there are references to the veil within the Christian bible, which of course predates Islam by several centuries.
The practice of wearing full face coverings in Islamic countries is uncommon throughout history, save a small number of cultures notably in the Arabian Peninsula and even then mostly among the upper classes. Working class Islamic women historically didnt wear the veil. As naturally enough it wasnt a practical mode of dress, in the days before we invented running water or electric ovens, and they had to roll up their sleeves and do physical labour, often alongside the men out in the fields.
Indeed veil wearing has only seen a significant upsurge in the last few decades. And mostly this has been driven by the Wahabbai movement, a slightly crazy, xenophobic, luddite sect within Islam who have, as one commentator put it, sought to ban everything invented since the 18th century, save the AK-47.
So I would argue that it is not beyond reason for the government to bring in restrictions on such practices, particularly in certain working environments. And perhaps the wider point here is that religion, or for that matter politics, cannot be used as an excuse to ignore all the practical issues and rules. If we start down that road whats to stop me joining the religion of the dude and start coming into work in my dressing gown?
Furthermore faith is not an excuse to turn off your brain and ignore any facts to the contrary. As in, do people actually believe that god/Allah/Jehovah/Thatcher :)) will ignore the mass slaughter in Syria, the inequalities in our society, the unchristian/unislamic behaviour of the financial markets (which anyone with a bank account in the West is indirectly part of and thus culpable), climate change and the destruction of the environment…but will instead choose to punish women for their dress sense? (I have this vision now of Allah as this metrosexual Gok Wang type :)) !)
Similarly, the likes of creationists who will counter anyone pointing to the mass of evidence in support of evolution (and that the earth being billions of years old) with the line oh its my faith. Then your faith leads you believe that god is some sort of practical joker who is deliberately trying to fool us into believing in evolution, given the wealth of evidence hes gone around creating to support it. And lets not get started on Catholics and their views on contraception…as parodied on Monty Python.
In short, if there is a god, one assumes he gave us brains to think with for a reason.