Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Magicoreligious Madness

The recent story of the Sikh girl who won the right to wear a piece of jewellery in opposition to school rules was always going to get a comment out of me.

As evident by the prominent link to a certain Church on my blog front, I don't hold religion is particularly high regard. Not to say I don't have faith, which I do, or I don't see a point in believing in something or than deterministic, reductionist science. I don't consider faith the be all and end all of existence in the same sense that science does not explain everything, however some people on either side of this invisible border between the two continue to have irritating effects on society. A society which is, apparently, looked after by a secular government.

The school in question was running a 'No Jewellery' policy. This in itself is not uncommon from schools I have both attended and worked in. I gather such policies are conducted for several reasons. Firstly, jewellery can cause jealous and envy, which have further follow on and side effects. Secondly, jewellery can cause problems with local health and safety policies (hoop earrings being pulled out - not pretty). Thirdly, some schools employ a uniform policy in an attempt to make children feel smart and equal to each other. Accessories put a dint into this, unfortunately. I don't agree with taking away people's individuality ala uniform policy, but it is a rule in many schools and was in this one, for (debatably) good reason. Rules are rules, and - made to be broken or not - are enforced, and should be if that's what the school board has agreed. Furthermore, the student in question signed a contract saying she would abide by said rules. I'm sure it wasn't a blood-legal document, but still an agreement.

Thus, she was breaking school rules. And anyone breaking rules is usually reprimanded. She continued to break the rules, she continued to be reprimanded. Until she went into the Court system and received what could be described as special dispensation to break the rules of the school. This special dispensation happened because what she was breaking the rules wearing is an accessory of magicoreligious importance. Despite the fact that it is going against the grain of all three of the above points of the rule.

This is particularly annoying. Schoolchildren comprise a diverse mix of cultures and subcultures who are different in physical appearance and psychological standpoint and belief, including any spiritual or magicoreligious standing. For some children, music is king. It's the most important thing in their lives. Listening to it, reading about it, following the tenets set out by the leading stars. And yet they are not allowed to express this through accessories on uniforms. Piercings and eyeliner, for one example, are disallowed. Yet a Sikh bangle has been given special dispensation (thankfully, the Fundamentalist 'SilverRingThing' was thrown out of the courts last year. I almost had a little party in celebration).

So, the crux of the matter is: where do we draw the line? This is not a secular society, so one belief should not receive more privileges than an other. Clearly, Sikhism has existed for a much longer duration and has a larger following than some Gothic music subculture, as hinted at in the example above. But does that automatically make it more important? What about a young black child who is celebrating his or her ethnic or racial links or roots by wearing a certain accessory to their uniform? Is this aspect of colonialism and it's aftermath less or more important than a religion. Where is the line drawn?

My standpoint is that mentioned above. As long as Britain remains a secular country then religion should not get any leg-ups. There are many schoolchildren who believe in fashions or trends just as vehemently as a religion, and yet they're not allowed to express themselves within the gates of a school. Their treatment shouldn't be so unfair.

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