Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Purity Ring Controversy - My Two Cents

I caught this controversy in the Oddly Enough news from Reuters:

LONDON (Reuters) - A teenage schoolgirl will appeal to the High Court on Friday to overturn a ban on her wearing a "purity ring" at school to symbolize her decision to abstain from sex before marriage.

Lydia Playfoot, 16, from West Sussex, says the silver ring is an expression of her faith and should be exempt from the school's rules on wearing jewellery.

"It is really important to me because in the Bible it says we should do this," she told BBC radio. "Muslims are allowed to wear headscarves and other faiths can wear bangles and other types of jewelery. It feels like Christians are being discriminated against."

Read the whole story here.

Surprisingly, I found this story actually got me fairly agitated. I'm not even quite sure why, but I totally feel compelled to add in my two cents.

What I know

OK, for starters, here are two things I know.

First, the student, Lydia Palyfoot is doing exactly what a 16 year student should be doing - pushing her boundaries for a good cause. Way to go Lydia! I'm not in agreement with you, but I totally think your effort is a good one.

Second, this whole thing about public schools and religious needs of students seems, for a large number of cases, to be straightforward. It seems to me like the school should accommodate the absolute minimum needs that a student has. That is, if a Jewish student keeps Kosher, they should not require the student to each the cafeteria food, and they should allow them to bring in their own lunch. They shouldn't be expected to provide Kosher food for the student.

Or, suppose a Jewish student wants to have his head covered and the school doesn't allow hats. The student should be allowed to wear a plain black kippah, not a baseball cap of their choice.

By this standard, I think it's pretty clear that Lydia shouldn't be allowed to wear her purity ring (Sorry Lydia). I think the minimum standard here would somehow involve the school requiring her to have sex (yuck),and that clearly isn't something any school administrator wants (though some students may have a different opinion on this one).

You do run into issues where the minimum standard clashes with the basic requirements of the institution. For example, the fact that the SATs need to be taken on Saturday for security reasons, yet Religious Jews don't write on Saturday. Or the classic viel and driver's license controversy. In thosecases, I'm not sure I know the answer. But, luckily, Lydia's case can meet minimum standards requirement.

What I don't know (so well)

Now onto things that I don't know so well...

I have to admit, I'm kinda annoyed at the parents here. The school is obviously trying to setup a safe and ideal atmosphere for their child to learn in, and they are going out of their way to counteract that. It's one thing for a 16 year to not see the value of showing respect and support to a school, it's another thing for adults to not see that. I'd expect the parents to see the big picture, and to have an appreciation for it.

Basically, If a Jewish student wanted to wear a Star of David to school, and the school said that jewelry wasn't allowed, I would expect the parents to sit their kid down and enforce that rule. Period.

Perhaps it all boils down to this: it's important for kids to understand when you fight (say, being forced to eat Non-Kosher food) and when you work with the (say, finding ways to have your head covered while staying as close to school policy as possible) system. Unfortunately, Lydia isn't getting that lesson in a meaningful way.

Finally, someone's going to have to explain to me this whole: "It feels like Christians are being discriminated against" concept. Now, this story is happening in England, but I've heard this argument in the past from folks in the US. I just have a really hard time following it. From the perspective of someone who's not in the majority, I think Christians have it pretty dang good. This argument kind of feels like me saying: Gosh, I'm a youngish, white, male - how can I stop people from discriminating against me?.

Though, I readily admit, I'd love to have the conversation with someone who feels strongly about this - because at this point, I just don't get it.

Here's an idea...

Little known fact: in high school I had a button, which I suppose I wore fairly proudly, that said: Not Me - Not Now. It was an abstinence campaign (and basically, a statement of fact). Of course, at that time, committing to abstinence was about as difficult as breathing. But hey, I had my time in the sun. Maybe I can dig up that old button and send it to Lydia...wonder if the school would ban that too?


  1. Anonymous9:48 PM

    Oh Mr. Simon,

    Of course there is discrimination against christians and a "war on christianity" just like Bill O'Reilly says there is. Or maybe, it's all the priveleged white people who have gone their entire lives not having to feel discriminated against who are doing everything they can to make themselves feel burdened and put upon so that they can feel closer to Jesus, who actually was crucified.

    I may be christian, but I'm also realistic.

  2. Thanks for the perspective Gareth.

    Now if only Mr. O'Reilly would post his view in the comments, we'd be all set.