Are religions really universal?

I read an interesting piece on the unfortunate verdict of a British High Court to disallow a young teenager the freedom to wear her “Purity Ring” to school:

A teen-ager whose teachers had stopped her wearing a “purity ring” at school to symbolize her commitment to virginity lost a High Court fight against the ban Monday. – [Yahoo/Reuters]

The sad part of this is that, her statement regarding the gradual erosion of the right to religious freedom may be true. But more importantly, it raises a simple but very important question. How does one determine whether any given symbolic ornament or ritual is core to any given religion? Can such a thing even be done? The High Courts decision seems to be based on the premise that Christianity has some universally recognized integral components that are practiced in the same general way by everyone.

I honestly don’t believe that to be true. Christianity is not practiced the same way by every one. This is why there are many different kinds of Christians. Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. I don’t believe that anyone in a legal capacity should be able to argue that any one thing does or does not belong in the Christian faith, or that any belief or symbol is any more or less important to Christians in general, because the truth is, there is no single, universally followed, Christian faith.

A typical example is the fact that many traditional Christian beliefs hold that sex before marriage is a no-no. And yet there are many sexually active, unmarried Christians. I would submit that this teenagers Christian views, while not the norm, are more traditionally valid than most. So the question is, how can her beliefs, and the symbols thereof, be marginalized on the grounds that they are not integral to the Christian faith?

I do realize we are talking about a piece of jewelry. But you cannot ignore the importance of symbolism in religion. A crucifix is no less a piece of jewelry than a ring. None of Jesus’ disciples wore a crucifix. That was something that followers of Christianity implemented later on at some point as a symbol, a reminder of the values of our faith. So, in my opinion, a purity ring or headdress should not be judged any differently. Perhaps she would get fairer treatment if she started a new religion that employed purity and faith rings instead of a crucifix.

Law and policy makers often seem to ignore the fact that religions are generally not the kind of things people can leave at the door when they go somewhere. They are often a lifestyle, a way of living life itself, and it was to protect this aspect of our individual rights that the laws protecting our freedom of religion were written.

Schoolgirl loses “virginity ring” battle – [Yahoo/Reuters]

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