A Massachusetts pharmacy college that drew flak for banning face coverings, including the veils worn by some Muslim women, has amended its policy to allow for a religious exemption.
"Based on a constructive dialogue with our extended community, and an intensive review of safety and security measures with advisors, we have amended our identification policy," the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences said this afternoon in a statement. "We will achieve our objective of campus security while allowing for a medical and/or religious accommodation."
The announcement came a day after a Muslim civil liberties group asked the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate whether it was illegal for the college to ban face coverings, under federal law that bans employment discrimination.
The college has said it implemented the policy on Jan. 1 for students, faculty, and staff on its three campuses so public safety officials could identify people in college buildings.
The amended policy provides that head coverings that obscure the face "may not be worn, either on campus or at clinical sites, except when required for medical and/or religious reasons."
"Obviously, we're pleased that they've added a religious exemption as we believed the law mandated. We hope this ends the matter," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, which had asked the EEOC to investigate. "Our EEOC complaint is moot if they have a religious exemption."
A college spokesman said earlier this week that the new policy was drafted after a periodic review of safety procedures and applied to anything that would cover the face, including, in addition to veils, ski masks and scarves drawn over the face.
The spokesman also denied that the development of the policy had any connection to the arrest last year of a 2008 graduate of the school, Tarek Mehanna, on terrorism charges.
"As always, our primary concern is the security and safety of all our students, faculty, and staff," the college said in its statement today.
The college, founded in 1823, has 4,300 students in pharmacy and a variety of other health care programs. It has campuses in Boston, Worcester, and Manchester, N.H.
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