To what extent should the law regulate how we dress?
At one extreme, there is the proposal by Conservative MP Phillip Hollobone that Islamic full-face veils (specifically, the niqab and the burqa) be prohibited.
And at the other extreme, Steve Gough, the "Naked Rambler", is currently serving a 21 month sentence for "contempt of court", the latest of a number of legal sanctions which he has endured.
Mr Gough's series of legal problems seem to arise not from any law that actually bans nakedness, but by the use of laws regarding "breaching the peace" and "contempt of court".
But should it be a legal matter at all?
The decision as to how one wishes to present oneself to the world can be regarded as a private matter and (sometimes) a public matter.
It is a private matter in that how (or, indeed, if) one dresses is a matter fundamental to one's sense of personal autonomy.
It is perhaps a public matter in that one's appearance can be an exercise of one's right to free expression; it is also, arguably, a public matter as other people may not wish to see how one is dressed (a burqa) or not dressed (nakedness).
In both its private and public aspects, the liberal starting point is that an individual should be able to do what they want, unless there is a wider public interest in them not doing so.
And, in my view, mere offence is not sufficient to rebut the presumption in favour of individual autonomy in the case of either a burqa or a naked rambler.
But what is sufficient?
Or should there be no rules at all?
Steve Gough has reportedly been told that he may spend the rest of his life in prison.
Presumably, a prohibtion on wearing a burqa would have the same practical effect, and a determined burqa wearer would face similar punishments and incarceration.
What has happened to Steve Gough and what could happen to a burqa wearer under prohibition is surely more offensive to any sensible person than nakedness or a full-face veil.
Steve Gough is still in prison: his official website is here, with details of how you can write to him in support.
(I owe the title of this blogpost to a suggestion by @rengox on Twitter.)
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