The Observer It is only a band of silver, imprinted with a Bible verse, worn by a schoolgirl. But the decision by one of the country's top state schools
In the UKto ban American-style 'purity rings' - increasingly worn by Christian teenagers to symbolise a pledge not to have sex before marriage - has prompted not just a standoff with local parents, but a debate over religious expression and sex education. Heather and Philip Playfoot have spent almost two years in dispute with Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, over their 15-year-old daughter Lydia's ring. While the school's uniform rules forbid jewellery, they argue that the rings - given to teenagers who complete a controversial evangelical church course preaching sexual abstinence - hold genuine religious significance.
I wonder if they are allowed a crucifix.'The ring is a reminder to them of the promise they have made, much the same as a wedding ring is an outward sign of an inward promise,' said Heather Playfoot.
If they were married, would they be allowed to wear a wedding band?'There are Muslim girls in the school who are allowed to wear the headcovering, although that isn't part of the school uniform, and Sikh girls who are allowed the wear the bangle although that isn't part of the uniform. It's a discriminatory policy.
But it is OK to discriminate against Christians, because they know that they are not likely to riot, burn down buildings, and behead people like the radical Muslims might if they felt their faith was offended. As as far as the Sikh's the school really does not understand they are not Muslims.'We don't want her education to be disrupted because of it but we do want her to feel free to wear something that is very significant.' The family claim that Lydia and up to a dozen other pupils wearing purity rings have been forced to take lessons in isolation as punishment for breaking the rules, threatened with detention and that - in Lydia's case - the school governors intimated she could be expelled for repeatedly defying the rules. Heather Playfoot said the school had told them it was a health and safety issue.
It is, but not the way the school thinks. If the girls engage in premarital sex they run the risk of spreading a number of STDs (as well as possibly getting pregnant).Lydia has now stopped wearing the ring in school. 'It makes me feel quite upset and angry as well, and in a way betrayed a little, because the school are always teaching us to be safe and we are trying to stand up for something,' she told The Observer. 'We get picked on and called out of lessons to see if we have got [the rings] on. I do actually keep to the school rules and I don't like stepping out of line or anything, but I just think this is really unfair.'
It is.Her ring came from the Silver Ring Thing, an evangelical initiative recently introduced to Britain from the US, with which her parents' local church is involved.