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Judgment received in silver ring case

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Deputy High Court Judge Michael Supperstone QC delivered judgment in the case of Lydia Playfoot today. The judge rejected Lydia’s case that she had been discriminated against by being placed in detention and prevented from wearing a small silver ring by Governors at Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex. The ‘Silver Ring Thing’ www.silverringthing.org.uk  is a Christian education project aimed at helping teenage girls value themselves, and abstain from sex outside marriage, helping to reduce Britain's ever-increasing rise in sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies amongst teenagers, and abortions.


Lydia made it clear to the school and to the Court that the ring was an important statement expressing her Christian faith to stay faithful to Christ and to live her life according to Biblical principles. To Lydia, the symbol of the ring (which 11 other girls at her school had wanted to wear) was vital in a world where sex education was taught in a ‘value free’ environment to younger and younger girls. 


Miss Playfoot was told the ring broke the school’s uniform policy and she was put in isolation for wearing the ring. The School uniform policy prohibited all jewellery except ear studs, but still allowed for Muslims to wear headscarves and Sikhs to wear Kara bracelets.


School Governors rejected all requests to allow her to wear the ring. Lydia removed the ring at the start of his year so that her studies, culminating in sitting her GCSE Exams, were not affected by ongoing tension between her and teaching staff.


Delivering his judgment, Judge Supperstone said that Lydia was not manifesting her belief by wearing the ring and that Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights was not engaged.


Article 9 says ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’  


Judge Supperstone went on to say that the school recognises exceptions to the general ban on jewellery where the imposition of the strict rule would impose a disproportionately harsh result on the pupil. The school had allowed for exceptions to be made on this basis for Muslim girls to wear their headscarves and Sikh girls to wear Kara bracelets.  Commenting on this Andrea Williams, Public Policy Officer of the LCF said ‘Lydia told the court that wearing the ring was an expression of her faith. In holding that Lydia’s ring is not a manifestation of her belief, Judge Supperstone seems to be making judgments on what is and what is not a valid expression of faith. Furthermore, it is hard to fathom how a teenage girl’s right to  wear a purity ring  should be limited because it could pose  a threat to ‘public order, health or morals’


Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights indicates that ‘the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination.’   Deputy High Court Judge Michael Supperstone said ‘In my judgment there is no evidence that the school has unlawfully discriminated against the claimant. The evidence before me suggests that the school reached carefully considered decisions on each occasion it had been called upon to permit an exception to the uniform policy.’


Commenting on this Andrea Williams, Public Policy Officer of the LCF said ‘If the uniform policy was uniform with no permitted exceptions then not allowing Lydia to wear her ring would be understandable. However, to allow exceptions for girls manifesting Muslim and Hindu faith indicates that today the only acceptable intolerance towards any faith group is towards a young girl wishing to manifest her Christian faith’



Statement issued on behalf of Lydia Playfoot


Following a Judicial Review in the High Court, brought by Lydia Playfoot (a pupil) against Millais School, West Sussex


I am very disappointed by the decision this morning by the High Court not to allow me to wear my purity ring to school as an expression of my Christian faith not to have sex outside of marriage.  I believe that Mr. Justice Supperstone’s decision will 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.


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


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. 


As a Christian I do not agree with sex before marriage.  I believe I have a right not only to state my Christian views on sex, but also to demonstrate my Christian faith and commitment to God and my future husband not to have sex before marriage, through the wearing of a purity ring.


I, along with 11 other Christian girls at Millais School decided before God that we would make a commitment not to have sex before marriage, and as a sign of that commitment, to wear a simple silver ring from the ‘Silver Ring Thing’ movement.


The wearing of the ring was to me, a demonstration of my Christian faith and values, which are based on the Bible – which clearly teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong and therefore not God's best for us.


Despite the fact that Muslims girls at our school wear headscarves, and Sikhs wear Kara bangles, the school refused to allow me to manifest my belief through the wearing of a ring. 


The School Governors originally said it was for Health and Safety reasons that purity rings were banned from school, but have offered no evidence to support the view that wearing a ring could physically harm another pupil or staff member.


I still believe the decision by the Governors of the School goes against the Article 9 rights to Freedom of Religion and my right to express my faith in word or deed, in a democratic, Christian-based country.


I shall be consulting my legal team to consider whether to appeal.


Finally I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents, family and friends who have stood by me though all of this, and to the many hundreds of people, both locally in Horsham, across the UK and throughout the world  who have sent me letters of support and assured me of their prayers.


I would also like to thank the national press and media for the balanced way in which they have covered this story, and have portrayed it for what it is; another example of the loss of the right of Christians to demonstrate their faith in public.


Lastly, but by no means least, I would like to thank my barrister, Mr Paul Diamond, and Mrs Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship for all their advice, guidance and support through what is a legal and political minefield for a 16-year-old schoolgirl to walk through.  I would also like to thank Paul Eddy, of Paul Eddy PR who has guided me through the maze of working with the national press and media.


To everyone I offer my thanks, and I deeply regret that I could not persuade the Court to consider upholding the religious liberty of Christian people in the United Kingdom.


As a Christian though, I live for another Kingdom, and serve another King, Jesus Christ, and therefore I shall continue to live and speak for what is right and true.


Thank you.


Miss Lydia Playfoot

July 16, 2007

 

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