Commenting on the recent French decision to ban Muslim women's face veils, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, said:
"Attempts to proscribe particular forms of dress, whether religious or non-religious, and whether we approve of them according to our own convictions and conduct or not, will be widely seen as a threat to free expression.
"Clothing codes based on genuine safety considerations, or needed to facilitate identification and communication, are a different matter. These need to be encouraged through negotiation, mutual respect and agreement.
"As Muslim scholars and commentators have remarked, bans of the kind adopted in France are also profoundly counterproductive in relation to stemming the growth of narrow, politicised types of Islamism. They contradict the philosophical premises they are supposed to be based on and they feed xenophobia and general anti-Muslim sentiment.
"The kind of secularism promoted by some in France and elsewhere is restrictive and prescriptive. It is opposed by those who see secularity as a means of encouraging free expression and equal participation in civil society, rather than imposing one ideology. We need to be encouraging and modelling an open, plural culture in which people are neither disadvantaged nor privileged for their subscription to a belief system, their style of dress, or their membership or otherwise of organised religious or non-religious organisations. The French ban raises profound issues of religious, political and civic freedom."