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Muslim schoolgirl unlawfully excluded says Court of Appeal

Nick Bird

Shabina BegumShabina Begum was unlawfully excluded from school for choosing to wear a traditional Muslim gown, the Court of Appeal has ruled. Denbigh High School in Luton refused to allow Miss Begum, now 16, to wear the jilbab, a full length gown, and insisted that she comply with the school's dress code. The court ruled that this was a contravention of the Human Rights Act.

Speaking after the verdict, Miss Begum said that her exclusion was "a consequence of an atmosphere that has been created in Western societies post 9/11, an atmosphere in which Islam has been made a target for vilification in the name of the 'war on terror'. It is amazing that in the so-called free world I have to fight to wear this attire."

The case lasted over a year and in June 2004 a High Court judge dismissed the schoolgirl's application for a judicial review. However, Lord Justice Brooke has now ruled that her school unlawfully excluded her, denied her the right to manifest her religion and denied her access to suitable and appropriate education.

The verdict comes against a background of controversy over the decision in France last year to ban the wearing of religious symbols and dress in schools, a move which was primarily opposed by Muslims. It has split the European left, with the majority of the French left supporting the ban in the name of secularism - to the anger of socialists in Britain who overwhelmingly opposed it and who defend the freedom of children to wear religious dress if they choose to.

Such is the level of racism that has been created in British society by the 'war on terror' that the Conservative shadow education secretary Tim Collins stated that a school's right to set its own dress code should override the Human Rights Act, which was "unduly restricting the freedom of head teachers to run their schools in their own way."

We should welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal. Those who would oppose it for secular reasons are confusing the rational demand that state and religion should be separate with a desire to deny freedom of religious expression, which the left should have no part in. I have yet to see it explained - in relation to the French policy - how forcing Muslim children out of state schools into private religious schools is a victory for secular education.

Shabina Begum is now attending a different school and sought no damages from her case. She should be congratulated for securing a victory on this important principle, perhaps all the more remarkable for being delivered by Britain's deeply flawed legal system.

 

March 2005

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