A school has banned Christian pupils from wearing rings that symbolise the teenagers' belief in chastity until marriage. Youngsters have been ordered to remove the 'purity rings' because they contravene the school's uniform policy.
Millais School, an all-girls' comprehensive in West Sussex, has a strict 'no jewellery' rule, allowing only small stud earrings. But the girls' families argue that that the rings - simple bands of silver given to youngsters who complete an evangelical church course preaching abstinence - hold genuine religious significance.
Parents also point out that the school allows Muslim and Sikh pupils to wear headscarves or kara bracelets as a means of religious expression.
Heather and Philip Playfoot have been in dispute with the school in Horsham over the issue for two years. Their 15-year-old daughter Lydia began wearing her ring to the school in June 2004.
The Playfoots claim Lydia and up to a dozen pupils have been punished for breaking the rules. Lydia recently stopped wearing the ring but feels 'betrayed' by the school.
She said: "My friends and I have had detentions and been taught in isolation for wearing the ring. I feel like I've been treated the same as someone who is caught bringing cannabis into school. My ring is a symbol of my religious faith. I think, as a Christian, it says we should keep ourselves pure from sexual sinfulness and wearing the ring is a good way of making a stand. I stopped wearing the ring because it was being made really difficult for me. I am sitting GCSE modules this year and I missed loads of drama lessons because the teachers would teach us in isolation."
Her parents Heather, 47, a housewife and Phil, 49, a minister in a nondenominational church, are considering taking legal action.
Mrs Playfoot said: "The ring is a reminder to them of the promise they have made, much the same as a wedding ring is an outward sign of an inward promise. There are Muslim girls at the school who are allowed to wear the headcovering, although that isn't part of the school uniform, and Sikh girls who are allowed to wear the bangle, although that isn't part of the uniform. It's a discriminatory policy. We don't want her education to be disrupted because of it but we do want her to feel free to wear something that is very significant."
Lydia's ring comes from Silver Ring Thing, an evangelical American Christian movement.
It has encouraged a growing number of teenagers to make a 'pledge of chastity'.
The silver ring demonstrates commitment to this pledge.