Michael Gove does not support banning religious headwear in all schools the Department for Education has insisted, after Theresa May made public a letter she sent the education secretary warning against including the wearing of headscarfs in any definition of extremism.
On Wednesday The Times revealed that May and Gove were at odds over the government's strategy in tackling extremism. Gove is said to want the Home Office to take a tougher line. But May hit back, suggesting it was Gove's department that was failing to act.
In her letter, May said she agreed that there needed to be a "clear and unambiguous definition of extremism and of Islamist extremism". However she added that "many moderate Muslims" believe hair coverings are a religious requirements and therefore should "not be part of the extremism definition".
The home secretary's letter was in response to one sent by Gove to the prime minister, as yet not in the public domain, asking permission to launch a consultation on a new voluntary code of practice for schools.
May's insistence that the wearing of headscarfs should not be including in any definition of extremism suggests Gove had wanted it to be.
A spokesperson for the education secretary told The Huffington Post that Gove did not want to ban religious headwear but did not comment on the definition of extremism.
"The secretary of state does not support a ban on religious headwear for pupils in all state-funded schools," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added: "As he has said, it is for schools to determine their uniform policies. They should do with a common sense balance, taking into account civil liberties and freedom of religion."
Justice secretary Chris Grayling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning that he had "not been involved" in any discussion about the banning of headscarfs. But added: "We have freedom to express one's self, to wear what one wants, to do what ones what, as long asthose actions aren't threatening to our society.
"What we focus on are addressing those areas where a growth of an extremist ideology poses a threat to our society is not about the freedom of the individual about people trying to challenge the structural values and nature of our society," he said.
Grayling, who sits on the extremist task force along with May and Gove, said it was "important we find the right balance of freedom of expression and the ability of government to work against extremist ideology".
On Thursday morning David Cameron's official spokesperson also declined to say whether the issue of banning the headscarf in schools had been discussed within government.
The spokesperson added that prime minister's position remained unchanged and that he supports schools in setting and enforcing their own uniform policies.
At the time of publication the Department for Education had not responded to a request for the education secretary's letter to be made public.
Extract of May's letter to Gove: "We know that extremists try to impose specific forms of dress on people and this includes the mandatory veiling of women. The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way. We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one's hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so. The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the government's already-stated position on the burqa, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way."