The school's policy apparently provides an across-the-board exemption for religious garb and accessories if they are a "religious requirement." Apparently the niqab falls within this exception, but not the "chastity ring," because, as the principal put it:
The ring "is not a Christian symbol, and is not required to be worn by any branch within Christianity."Ms. Playfoot's rebuttal is essentially, Who is the school principal to decide what is a Christian symbol and what is required to be worn? Or in her lawyer's words, "Secular authorities and institutions cannot be arbiters of religious faith."
He was, of course, very nearly quoting from a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, and it would stand to reason that the law under Article 9 of the European Convention would be similar, but I leave it to you, gentle reader to figure that out. (Assuming the girl has standing, of course, even though she has since left the school; I can't even guess at how the Brits handle this.)
The school's other contention seems to be that the ring doesn't represent a sincere religious commitment but a mere "fad" (and not even a British one!). Here again, the school should lose: neither the school nor the court is in a position to second-guess individual religious sincerity so long as it is not a transparent hoax. This should be obvious, no?
I wonder what Tony Blair -- who controversially criticized the public wearing of the niqab as a "mark of separation" and expressed approval for the school that disciplined a teacher for wearing it -- would make of this school, which permits the niqab as a "religious requirement" but prohibits the more idiosyncratic but much less obtrusive silver ring? (Interestingly, in public statements Ms. Playfoot, her father and her lawyer can't seem to decide if they're being discriminated against along with, or in contrast to, their Muslim fellows.)
In any event, this transparently ridiculous school rule might hopefully provide some perspective on overzealous calls for suppression of individual religious expression in schools. That little engraved ring isn't even likely to have any effect on the wearer's sexual behavior, let alone the school environment.