A teenage girl who was banned by her school from wearing a "purity ring" is taking her case to the High Court.
Lydia Playfoot, 16, is a member of a Christian group called the Silver Ring Thing and one of a number of students at the Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, who wears a silver ring engraved with a Biblical reference — "1 Thes 434," a reference to St. Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians — as a sign of their belief in abstinence from sex until marriage.
She claims that her secondary school is breaching her human rights by preventing her from wearing the ring, while allowing Muslim and Sikh students to wear headscarfs and religious bangles.
The school denies her claims, arguing that the purity ring is not an integral part of the Christian faith, and contravenes its uniform policy.
Playfoot will argue that her right to express her religious beliefs under Article Nine of the Human Rights Act has been breached by the ban.
"At my school Muslims are allowed to wear headscarves and other faiths can wear bangles and other types of jewellery and it feels like Christians are being discriminated against," Playfoot told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
The Silver Ring Thing was set up in America in 1996 as a response to the escalating numbers of teen pregnancies in Yuma, Ariz. Teenagers pay a few dollars for a silver ring and a Bible, and pledge not to have sex before marriage. The movement arrived in Britain several years ago.
The U.K. branch of the Silver Ring Thing is based at the Kings Church in Horsham where Playfoot's father, Phil, is pastor. Her mother, Heather, is the company secretary of its business arm. It runs a training program called "The Silver Ring Thing 434."
Playfoot denied that wearing her silver chastity ring was a fad. "The idea is a bit American, but it's something I think is just really important. It's not just a fad sweeping across England, it is something unique, important to every single person," she told BBC Breakfast.
"It says that I’m not going to have sex until I’m married and I’m going to stay sexually pure until I’m married. In the Bible it says you should remain sexually pure and I think this is a way I want to express my faith.
"I think in the society we live in today with lots of pregnancies and STDs, something like this is quite important and should be taken hold of."
In a statement placed before the court, she said: “We are involved with SRT (Silver Ring Thing) as a movement to promote and educate young people on the issues of sexual purity."
Her father, Phil Playfoot, said that his daughter was pursuing the case, even though she was leaving the Millais school, because it embodied an important principle.
Rings had been worn by Christians for many hundreds of years and Lydia wore hers as a symbol of her commitment to her faith, he said. Many thousands of young people had made the same commitment.
He claimed that Christianity was under attack from the forces of secularism: "I think what is happening in our culture more generally is that what I would describe as secular fundamentalism is coming to the fore, which really wants to silence certain beliefs and Christian views in particular. I think an important principle is at stake here, I think Christians should be respected for their views and beliefs.
"As other faiths are allowed to express their views through the wearing of headscarfs or the Kara bracelet of a Sikh, I think Lydia should be able to wear a ring as an expression of her faith," he told the BBC.
Playfoot said that he had not put any pressure on his daughter to bring the court case. He claimed that his involvement with the Silver Ring Thing had happened after Lydia was banned from wearing the ring at school.
"Lydia is a free thinker, she is a young person in her own right," he told the BBC. "She’s not living out our beliefs or wishes, it’s something she wants to do for herself."
Stacey Wilkinson, administrator of the Silver Ring Thing U.K., said: "We are supporting Lydia but can't comment on the case itself.
"The Silver Ring Thing is mainly in youth groups. We are trying to get into schools but it's a lot harder because of the Christian background that the course includes. We don't talk about contraception at all because it's about abstinence. In some cases we are going against what the government has said, but we want to give people a second option.
"Some people take the course but don't make the pledge, but it's a good thing that they've heard the options. It gives them the option to say no."
It is not the first time students have faced school bans over Christian symbols. Earlier this year Samantha Devine, a 13-year-old Catholic schoolgirl, was told not to wear a crucifix on a chain because it breached health and safety rules at The Robert Napier School, a non-denominational mixed school in Gillingham, Kent.
The school said the only exception it would make to its uniform rule would be if the jewellery was an essential part of a particular religion, which they did not feel was the case for Miss Devine. She was free to wear a crucifix as a small lapel badge, but not on a chain, the school ruled.
In 2005, 16-year-old Sam Morris was excluded from Sinfin Community School in Derby for a day after refusing to remove her cross and chain to comply with the school’s jewellery ban.
In November Nadia Eweida lost her legal battle to wear a crucifix while working as an air stewardess, but publicity over the case forced British Airways to review its uniform policy and allow religious symbols to be worn, although only in the form of small lapel badges.