British college drops ban on Muslim veils
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
AP PhotoOne of Britain's biggest colleges on Friday dropped a ban on Muslim face veils after thousands of people signed a petition against the rule.
Birmingham Metropolitan College said on Facebook it would change its policy to allow "individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values".
The college in Birmingham, a city in central England with a large Muslim population, had earlier said it would require "the removal of hoodies, hats, caps and veils so that faces are visible".
It would in effect have banned the niqab, a face veil worn by some Muslim women which covers everything except the eyes.
The policy won support from Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron's spokesman said he believed educational establishments should be able to "set and enforce their own school uniform policies".
But some 9,000 people signed a petition coordinated by the National Union of Students (NUS) Black Students' Campaign against the policy, while hundreds of students had planned to protest against the ban on Friday.
"This ban is a complete infringement on the rights to religious freedom and cultural expression and is a clear violation of a woman's right to choose," said NUS black students' officer Aaron Kiely.
The college offers higher and further education from the age of 16 and up.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on his weekly LBC radio show that he was "uneasy" about the policy.
Shabana Mahmood, a local lawmaker for the opposition Labour party, said the "change in policy is enormously welcome." Rightwing Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has tabled a private members' bill in parliament that would ban the public wearing of face coverings, emulating a law introduced in France in 2011.
On Thursday, a defendant in a London court was allowed to wear a niqab while entering a not-guilty plea to a charge of intimidation after a judge reversed his decision to make her show her face in court.
She was identified beforehand in a private room by a female police officer who had previously seen her when she was photographed after her arrest in June.