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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
'Chastity ring' girl loses case
Lydia Playfoot
Lydia Playfoot says her ring is a way of expressing her beliefs
A 16-year-old girl was not discriminated against when she was banned from wearing a "purity ring" in school, the High Court has ruled.

Lydia Playfoot was told by Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, to remove her ring - which symbolises chastity - or face expulsion.

The school had denied breaching her human rights and said it was "delighted" with the outcome.

Miss Playfoot said she was "very disappointed" by the decision.

She said the ruling would "mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith".

'Tinged with regret'

Judge Michael Supperstone QC said the school, which had insisted the ring was not an essential part of the Christian faith, was "fully justified" in its actions.

He ruled the act of wearing a ring was not "intimately linked" to the belief in chastity before marriage.

"The claimant (Miss Playfoot) was under no obligation, by reason of her belief, to wear the ring, nor does she suggest that she was so obliged," he said.

He rejected the submission that the ring was a "religious artefact" and therefore exempt from the school's uniform policy which bans jewellery.

"Whatever the ring is intended to symbolise, it is a piece of jewellery," he said. "...she voluntarily accepted the uniform policy of the school and there are other means open to her to practise her belief without undue hardship or inconvenience."

The government's sex education programme is not working and the pressure on young people to 'give in' to sex continues to increase
Lydia Playfoot

Headmaster Leon Nettley said: "Whilst we are clearly delighted with the outcome of the court hearing today, our success is tinged with regret that proceedings have needed to progress to this level."

He added that the school is not anti-Christian and the Christian doctrine is reflected in the "curriculum and life of the school community in many ways".

"We have always respected Lydia's right to hold and express her views and believe there were many ways in which it was possible for her to do this during her time with us," he said.

Miss Playfoot was one of a group of 11 girls at her school who joined a movement called the Silver Ring Thing.

Originating in America, members wear a ring engraved with a reference to the biblical verse I Thessalonians 4:3-4, which translates as: "God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control your body and live in holiness and honour."

'Focus on sex'

Miss Playfoot said she should be allowed to wear the ring because Sikh and Muslim pupils could wear bangles and headscarves in class.

"Over two years ago, I was concerned at the number of teenagers who were catching sexually transmitted diseases, getting pregnant and/or having abortions," she said.

"The government's sex education programme is not working and the pressure on young people to 'give in' to sex continues to increase.

"This is often because of the media's focus on sex and the expectations of others."

Chastity ring
The case illustrates growing Christian frustrations

The school said the ring contravened its uniform policy and when Miss Playfoot refused to take it off, she was taken out of lessons and made to study on her own.

At an earlier hearing at the High Court in London in June, human rights barrister Paul Diamond said the school was "forbidden" by law to set itself up as an arbiter of faith.

"Secular authorities cannot rule on religious truth," he said.

Mr Diamond, who also represented Nadia Eweida in the British Airways "cross case", argued that the school's actions violated Lydia's right to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

'Wider significance'

Miss Playfoot's first application to the High Court was turned down last year, but judges agreed to hear it after she appealed.

The teenager completed her GCSEs in May and has now left the school, but her father Phil, who is a pastor, said she wanted to pursue the case because of its wider significance for all Christians.

There should be no religious clothing or insignia in state-funded schools full-stop
Luke Rogers, Bristol, UK

Mr Playfoot and his wife Heather are part of the volunteer team which runs the UK branch of the Silver Ring Thing from their church in Horsham.

The organisers of the movement say as many as 25,000 young people have joined so far in the UK and that numbers are growing.

Miss Playfoot received messages of support from politicians, including Tory MP Ann Widdecombe and was also backed by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF).

Her case was funded through individual donations gathered through the LCF's sister group Christian Concern for our Nation.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "This is entirely the correct decision.

"The case was a manipulative attempt to impose a particular religious viewpoint on this school and, presumably, on other schools if this case had been won."

The judge ordered Miss Playfoot's father to pay 12,000 towards the school's legal costs.

Miss Playfoot said she was now considering whether to appeal against the ruling.

Lydia Playfoot speaking about her case before the verdict

US chastity ring funding attacked
17 May 05 |  Americas
The puzzle of teenagers and sex
12 Mar 04 |  Magazine
The power of the ring thing
22 Jan 04 |  This World

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