Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has condemned a Chasidic sect's ban on women driving as "completely unacceptable".
In a letter sent out last week, Belz rabbis, based in Stamford Hill, said that female drivers go against “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp”.
They also said that children would be barred from Belz schools if they were dropped off by their mothers in cars.
Responding to the letter, Ms Morgan said: "This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain.
"If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people they are breaching the independent school standards.
"Where we are made aware of such breaches we will investigate and take any necessary action to address the situation."
Ministers have launched an inquiry after receiving a complaint about the letter.
Ms Morgan said the government took the matter very seriously.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said it was "developing a strategy to tackle extremism in all its forms".
They added that Home Secretary Theresa May had "made clear that she is not prepared to write off any British citizen as if they deserve fewer rights than the rest of us just because of where they're born, who their parents are or what religion they happen to have and neither should anyone else".
In response, Ahron Klein, chief executive of the Belz Boys' School in Stamford Hill, wrote to Ms Morgan to explain the sect’s stand.
He said it was “never our intention to stigmatise or discriminate against children or their parents for the sole reason that either of the parents drives a car. We have already made it clear to our community that they need have no reason for concern. We accept that the choice of words was unfortunate and if a negative impression was created by our letter then we unreservedly apologise for that”.
He added that although, most women in the community did not drive cars, “it is equally true that a fair number of women do drive cars openly and entirely unhindered. They and their families are as respected within our community as any other members and we have no intention of changing that”.
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi said: "The Belz Chasidic dynasty has contributed significantly to the rich tapestry of our tradition but this particular view is entirely removed from mainstream Jewish practice."
Labour said its shadow women and equalities minister, Gloria De Piero, had written to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission asking them to investigate the lawfulness of the driving ban.
The Belz letter in full:
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to you on behalf of TTMH Belz Day School and Beis Malka Girls’ School, following your comments in the Evening Standard today about recent media reports concerning our community.
Over the last few days our community has become distressed and saddened by the misrepresentation of the notice we sent to the parents of our schools and the ensuing publicity.
It was never our intention to stigmatise or discriminate against children or their parents for the sole reason that either of the parents drives a car. We have already made it clear to our community that they need have no reason for concern. We accept that the choice of words was unfortunate and if a negative impression was created by our letter then we unreservedly apologise for that.
Our community is guided by religious principles and strong traditional values. We are concerned by the erosion of such values, especially amongst our youth, caused by the proliferation of technology and the declining standards of visual and printed media.
We are proud of what we stand for and we do not feel the need to excuse ourselves for our deeply held beliefs and staunchly maintained way of life. It has withstood the test of time and is not prone to the vagaries of passing fads.
We fully accept that despite being private schools we have responsibilities to our members and to the wider public. However, as private schools we have the freedom to set our own high standards by which we seek to live and bring up our children. Our community invest in our way of life and it is our duty to ensure that we provide an education in line with our time-hallowed traditions.
For this reason we have seen it necessary to issue guidelines which are restricted to our community and guided by the Torah and by the teachings of the Rebbes of Belz. We do not impose these guidelines on anyone who has not chosen to adhere to the mores of our community of his or her own free will.
In an effort to formulate these guidelines the issue of women driving cars became conflated with broader issues which we intended to address. It is a fact that most women in our community do not drive cars. It is equally true that a fair number of women do drive cars openly and entirely unhindered. They and their families are as respected within our community as any other members and we have no intention of changing that.
We hope that this clarifies our true intentions. We will continue to remain vigilant and unbending in ensuring that our children are shielded from the onslaught with which we are all faced today. It is our belief that only in this way will they grow up proud of our traditions and lifestyle which is built around the Torah, the family and mutual kindness. This is our purpose in life and for which we will always stand up proudly and unflinchingly.
TTMH Belz Day School