Laws generally fall into 3 categories: (a) protecting the rights of individuals or minorities (b) regulating conduct (c) operating the state.

Type (a) laws only limit freedom to the extent that rights are in conflict: the protection of the rights of the victim restricts the rights of the perpetrator. Most laws in this category are a net positive for personal freedoms, and laws such as those in a Bill of Rights are entirely about freedoms.

Type (c) laws are relatively neutral on freedoms. The laws that set up the parliament, the police force, courts, ATO, banks, industry, contracts, public transport, infrastructure, corporations, etc have little impact on personal freedom. The agencies they create may have an impact, but not the laws themselves.

Type (b) laws are the ones we should worry about. They include laws on topics like public drunkenness, affray, most traffic laws, public nuisance, censorship, etc, etc. These are the “do-good” laws that sound great in theory but add up to the nanny state.

So what about banning the burqa?

I don’t favour a ban, because I see it as type (b), regulating conduct with no great contribution to the protection of rights. However, there are some undesirable aspects and it would be relatively easy to introduce 2 specific laws, to make it:

  1. A criminal offence for a person to engage or attempt to engage in any commercial, contractual or regulated transaction or activity, or the creation, signing, production of any document related to personal identity, without exposing one’s full face, except with the prior express and written permission of the other part(ies) or the relevant regulating organisation as the case may be;
  2. A criminal offence for a person to impose or attempt to impose any obligation or demand or exemption on any other person or organisation on the grounds of any religious belief, principle or claim.

The rationale is that you are personally free to do what you like but transactions with other people give them the right to know who they are dealing with, and you can hold what beliefs you like but not impose them on others.

So, you can wear your burqa, but you cannot buy or use a ticket for a train, tram or bus; cannot drive a car; cannot go shopping; cannot buy food etc unless you are willing to remove it whenever you interact with anyone; and you cannot use “freedom of religion” as an excuse to force your requirements onto others.

These are type (a) laws that protect the freedoms and rights of the people and organisations you interact with against unwelcome religion-based demands and obligations. I would like them to extend to a number of other religious groups, but we won’t go into that now.