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Legal battle against dress code ends but opens a debate

Written by: Staff

London, Mar 23 (UNI) A Muslim girl failed in her two-year legal battle to force schools here to allow students to decide their own dress code according to their religious beliefs.

Britain's highest court yesterday ruled to uphold the right of all schools to set uniform rules provided that they consult their local community.

The Law Lords ruled that the human rights of Shabina Begum had not been breached when her school refused to allow her to wear a full-length Islamic dress to class and that Denbigh High School had not acted unlawfully.

The panel of five judges found that Denbigh High School was fully justified in the action it had taken, after being told that the school had consulted widely among local imams and the Muslim community about its uniform policy.

Dressed in a violet floor-length jilbab and matching coat, Ms Begum remained defiant and said she would consider appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

She said she was pleased to have opened a debate, which she hoped would increase pressure on schools to pay regard to student's religious beliefs.

''Obviously I am saddened and disappointed about this, but I am quite glad it is all over and I can move on now,'' she added.

Ms Begum, who is studying for her A levels at Luton Sixth Form College, said many Muslim women wear the salwar kameez prescribed by the school, but she believed it was a sin to show more than her hands and feet as a mature Islamic women.

''Muslim women do wear the shalwar kameez, but it's not really Islamic clothing, which is a one-piece garment which covers you from head to toe''.

With a Bangladeshi-born, Muslim head teacher, and four-fifths of the students Muslim in the college, Governors had approved a flexible uniform allowing students to wear skirts, trousers or the salwar kameez as well as a headscarf.

Lord Bingham said any sincere religious belief should be respected but the case centred on whether Ms Begum's freedom to express her beliefs were limited by the school and whether it was justified in doing so.

He said he considered that Denbigh High School had taken ''immense pains'' to devise a uniform policy which respected Muslim beliefs but did so in an inclusive, unthreatening and uncompetitive way.

The judges were also told that Ms Begum's older sister had worn the salwar kameez while attending the school and that for two years Ms Begum had appeared happy to comply with the uniform code. In September 2002, however, she chose to challenge the code when she arrived in the jilbab and was sent home to change.

The ruling, which overturned a previous Court of Appeal decision, was welcomed by head teachers and Luton Borough Council.


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