As I write this we are awaiting the High Court judgement on the case that a 16 year old girl, Lydia Playfoot, has brought against her school for stopping her wearing a “purity ring”.
The idea of “purity rings” is imported from the Christian right in the United States. They are aimed at young people and are supposed to represent their commitment to chastity until they get married. They are the symbols of a movement called “The Silver Ring Thing”. The rings are inscribed with a reference to the biblical verse I Thessalonians 4:3-4, which translates as: “God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control your body and live in holiness and honour.”
They are part of a general picture of mounting religious pressure on young people, particularly young women in this country. But do they even work? Do they keep young women “chaste”?
In the USA, research, including some published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that, unsurprisingly, lots of teenagers pressured into taking these types of pledges continue to have sex. More worryingly some research shows an increase in unprotected oral and anal sex amongst those who have taken these pledges.
The case against the school rests on the argument that refusing Playfoot’s right to wear the ring discriminates against Christians. She argues that Sikhs and Hindus are allowed to wear their religious paraphernalia, and that Christians should be allowed to wear theirs. The school counters that the ring is not central to a Christian’s beliefs.
Whilst clearly we cannot rely on schools or the High Court to protect young people from the increasing interference of reactionary religion in our schools, we can hope that the High Court supports the school’s ban. Regardless of whether they do, we must fight to ensure that the education unions take up the fight for secular education. That the unions launch a serious, militant campaign in favour of decent sex education, which fights against the anti-woman, anti-sex agenda of all the religious bigots.
Perhaps this case will give the left pause for thought over their stance on the veil in schools. Or maybe it will demonstrate that the left only becomes concerned when its their “own” white little girls who come under pressure to conform to the outdated, sexist, mumbo-jumbo of the resurgent religious right.