UK: Chastity ring centre of new school religion row

A Christian teenager will go to the high court this summer to challenge the decision of her school to ban her from wearing a celibacy ring on the grounds that it is her basic human right to express her religious beliefs.

Lydia Playfoot, 16, will argue that the school is being discriminatory because it allows pupils from other faiths to wear religious adornments. Muslim and Sikh pupils at her all-girls secondary school in West Sussex are allowed to wear headscarves, trousers and kara bracelets.

The case of the teenager, who attends Millais school in Horsham, has the support of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship – an organisation that represents 2,000 Christian lawyers from across the UK.

Its public policy officer, Andrea Williams, said today: “This case is about Lydia’s freedom of expression of her religious beliefs. It’s about equality and about creating a level playing field as Muslim and Sikh pupils are allowed to manifest their faith through religious ornaments and she has been prohibited.”

The case is expected to go before the high court before the summer recess.

The case has been in the legal pipeline for two years after Lydia was first banned from wearing the chastity ring, which has an inscription from the Bible, when she was 14.

Her father, Philip Playfoot, a full-time minister at the non-denominational King’s church in Horsham, and her mother, Heather, support their daughter’s legal challenge.

Today her mother told “Lydia has been wearing the ring since she was 14 as part of her chastity commitment.”

She explained the ring was a symbol of her daughter’s Christian belief to remain celibate until marriage and to remain faithful after marriage.

She said: “We have only ever asked of the school that there is a level playing field for children from all faiths and to treat Christians with respect.”

The case comes two months after the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) issued fresh school uniform guidelines.

Although the Playfoot case pre-dates this guidance, it was published following the case of a 12-year-old Muslim schoolgirl who took her education authority to the high court after she was refused permission to wear the full veil, or niqab.

The guidance was revised in March after the court upheld the decision of her school and Buckinghamshire county council.

The guidance says that schools “should act reasonably in accommodating religious requirements,” under human rights legislation.

But it is also legally possible under the act to have a school uniform policy that “restricts the freedom of pupils to manifest their religion” on the grounds of health and safety and the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

The ring is worn as part of an abstinence pledge that schoolchildren take when they sign up to the US-based Christian scheme the Silver Ring Thing, which is aimed at high school students.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 16, 2007.
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